The 19-year-old right-hander is 3-0 with an ERA of 0.54 in three starts for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds. Over 16 2/3 innings, he has allowed seven hits and one run with six walks and 28 strikeouts. He has a WHIP of 0.78 versus South Atlantic League hitters.
Because Rodriguez is a young pitcher in his first year of full-season ball, the Orioles intend to limit his innings this season. So he is expected to be skipped in the Shorebirds rotation when his turn comes up tomorrow.
But the club must love what they see from the product of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas. They selected him No. 11 overall last June. Rodriguez has made 12 pro appearances, counting the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer. He is 3-2 with an ERA of 1.00 and 48 strikeouts over 36 innings.
When I interviewed him this week on “Extra Innings” on 105.7 The Fan, Rodriguez said it was not the blazing fastball that has been the key to his fast start.
“My main focus this offseason was to develop a changeup,” he said. “Josh Tomlin, a big leaguer, taught me how to throw it. That was the main focus, playing catch with it every day and utilizing it in games. Just adding that to my arsenal has helped me tremendously. Three starts this season and it’s already been a big part of my repertoire.
“Growing up, I never really threw a changeup. Never needed one. It was fastball, curveball, slider. And so being able to throw a changeup now, it’s been a game changer for me. I’ve thrown the changeup a lot.”
According to a scout outside the organization, Rodriguez has averaged 93 mph on his fastball this season and has thrown his changeup 22 percent of the time. Rodriguez said he started out using the pitch mostly to lefty batters, but now throws some right-on-right changeups also.
Tomlin is from Tyler, Texas, and Rodriguez worked out with him and some others that have pitched in the majors over the winter. Tomlin, with the Cleveland Indians from 2010-2018, has an ERA of 3.12 this year in six games with the Atlanta Braves.
He was happy to show the kid a few pointers with the changeup.
“Just how to execute it. How to throw it, when to throw it, where to throw it. I play catch with it each day,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said he went into this season with few expectations, except to learn from his coaches and catchers and keep improving.
He has done that and more, picking up some intel on another key aspect for pitchers.
“Just learning how to read hitters,” he said. “Been learning how to read the way they swing, their swings on my pitches. What to throw next. Different scenarios for different counts. More of the strategic standpoint I’ve learned. Having attack plans for hitters and knowing scouting reports was a big focus in spring training.”
Rodriguez is a young man who seems to find the right balance of showing confidence in himself while also having a healthy respect for his opponents. He is not likely to get carried away with his early dominance.
“Baseball is a humbling game,” he said. “You can’t take it for granted. You have to keep working. It’s a nonstop grind. You have to compete every day. Each day there is a new game, so you have to focus on the task at hand.”
With his early dominance some fans are already wondering about promoting Rodriguez to Single-A Frederick. That seems to be much too fast and many organizations keep such young pitchers at one level in their first year of full season ball. The Orioles did that last year with lefty DL Hall pitching all year for Delmarva. But that doesn’t mean the new regime will have that same plan in mind for this pitcher.
“I have no clue,” Rodriguez said the team’s plans for him this year. “I have to focus on going out each day and controlling what I can control. Can’t get caught up in worrying about stuff I have no control over. If I throw my game, the rest will take care of itself.”