Come Friday night, Grayson Rodriguez will take the mound. However, he will do so in Norfolk instead of Boston, continuing his development with the Triple-A Tides rather than receive a promotion to the Orioles, a move that appears on the horizon, likely the next prospect in line for a long-awaited debut. .
Baltimore brought catcher Adley Rutschman to the major leagues on Saturday, introducing baseball’s top prospect to the major leagues. When Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect, will join him is more uncertain.
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias spoke at large Sunday when discussing the right-to-Baltimore road, saying he was close to a “full buildup.” But Elias has maintained his hesitation to push Rodriguez all the way, hoping to avoid an innings-limit shutdown by the end of the season.
That has led to an indefinite time frame for Rodriguez and those close to the 22-year-old, wondering when his pitch count will relax. In the last four starts, Rodriguez crossed the 80-pitch threshold, hitting a career-high 87 in an outstanding display that included a season-high 11 strikeouts. Rodriguez faced an 85-pitch limit for those starts, and the Orioles wanted to keep him there for a month before developing him further, according to an industry source with knowledge of the organization’s thinking.
When Rodriguez takes the mound Friday against the Gwinnett Stripers, that limit will increase to 95 pitches, the highest this season, the source said. Reaching that mark, however, will depend on how his exit plays out. The Orioles would like to see Rodriguez hit 100 pitches before they call him up, the source said.
Whether the Orioles expect Rodriguez to keep that 95-pitch limit for another month in the minors remains to be seen, though it’s in line with the cautious approach they’ve taken with Rodriguez so far, hoping to minimize the chances of injury. But it all comes down to Rodriguez staying in the minor leagues, while the Orioles’ rotation has a need in Boston that he could fill, now and in the future.
“We want it to not be able to close after they call it, assuming we call it,” Elias said. “We want him to be able to help the team. There are a lot of pitchers on this team that we have to manage innings because we have our sights set on the future, because they’re young. … We are prioritizing things beyond the 2022 season, for very good reasons.”
Rodriguez’s production at the Triple-A level this season seems to suggest he’s primed for increased competition. Rodriguez has a fastball that compares favorably to that of New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, and the Nacogdoches, Texas, native’s changeup is similar to Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Devin Williams, the reliever. 2020 NL Award of the Year. Rodriguez would rank near the top of the league in speed and movement on each respective pitch.
In the International League this season, no pitcher has averaged more strikeouts per nine innings (13.71). Rodriguez’s 30.4% difference between his strikeout rate and his walk rate is the best in the league. He has allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings (0.21) and has the lowest FIP (1.76), a metric that focuses only on events a pitcher has control over, removing defensive errors or deficiencies from the equation.
“I’m ready,” Rodriguez said in early May. “I feel like I can go out and give them whatever they ask for. Obviously, if it were up to me, I’m throwing 100, 110 pitches every week. But obviously, that is not the case. The organization has a release schedule that I must follow.”
Except for right-hander Jordan Lyles, few Orioles pitchers have broken the 85-pitch limit Rodriguez has operated with over the past month. Lyles has done it eight times, including a 117-pitch effort on Monday. Beyond him, though, right-hander Kyle Bradish and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann are the only other starters to have reached 85 or more pitches, each twice, in 44 games.
The rotation average is 74.3 pitches per start. And while Lyles has been a workhorse, right-hander Tyler Wells’ pitch limit has pushed him to a maximum of 79 pitches this year.
Rodriguez’s pitch count could work for the Orioles with ease. And with five games in four days against the Red Sox, plus an injury to right-hander Spenser Watkins that required a trip to the disabled list, Hyde said one of Baltimore’s starters this weekend will be Triple-A. But it is not expected to be Rodriguez.
One potential reason for the Orioles to refrain from calling up Rodriguez would be to wait until he passes the Super Two line, which is expected to occur in mid-June. Waiting until after the deadline ensures that Baltimore avoids an early arbitration hearing for Rodriguez: If a player is in the top 22% of MLB service time among two- and three-year-olds, he can get a hearing. salary arbitration after two years.
So for now, despite the analytics and statistics supporting a promotion for Rodriguez, the wait continues, leaving Rodriguez to start Friday night at Norfolk instead of Boston.