If Grayson Rodriguez keeps dealing like this, he could find himself on the mound at Camden Yards soon.
Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in baseball, continued his season-opening run of dominance on Wednesday with 5 1/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball, striking out eight and allowing a walk in Norfolk’s 3-0 win over Durham at Harbor Park . He retired 15 consecutive batters after the Bulls’ lone hit with one out in the first, registering 13 swings-and-misses on 75 pitches, perfectly hitting his pitch count for the night.
“Every inning the emphasis is to go out and attack the strike zone,” said Rodriguez. “Not altering my mentality, keep attacking the zone, attacking the hitters and not trying to make them swing and miss necessarily, just trying to make them get themselves out.”
After registering his first K, Rodriguez gave up a double to Isaac Paredes before setting into a groove. The 22-year-old stranded the runner with a groundout and a strikeout and needed just six pitches to mow through Durham’s lineup in the second.
“I left the heater over the middle. It’s Triple-A, so guys are going to hit those pitches,” Rodriguez said.
The Tides took a 1-0 lead in third with Rylan Bannon scoring on a wild pitch, giving Rodriguez and the rest of the Tides’ pitching staff all the offensive support they would need. The Orioles’ No. 2 prospect fanned two in the third, one in the fourth and two more in the fifth to bring his strikeout total to a season-high eight.
“Obviously, you like to see those results but a walk, a hit and one swing of the bat can change things,” Rodriguez said. Despite the results tonight, he added that his biggest adjustment to Triple-A was changing his mentality on the mound from previous seasons. “Instead of trying to strike everybody out, being in the zone until we get to two strikes and then trying to punch the hitter away.”
The Tides tackled on two more runs in the bottom half of the fifth on RBI singles from Richie Martin and Terrin Vavra, bringing Rodriguez back out in the sixth with a three-run lead. He forced a foul popout to start the inning and was pulled from the game after a walk, ending a dominant start. Norfolk’s bullpen held on to blank the Bulls, giving Rodriguez second win of the year.
In three starts this season, Rodriguez has recorded 23 strikeouts to two walks, fanning seven or more batters in each start for a K rate of 46.9%. He’s allowed two runs on five hits in 14 1/3 innings for a 1.26 ERA, 0.49 WHIP and a .109 batting average against.
Rodriguez, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, made his Triple-A debut in his first start of the season, fanning seven and allowing one hit in four scoreless innings. He expected to have Adley Rutschman behind the plate to start the season, but the No. 2 prospect in baseball has been sidelined with a right triceps strain. So far, Rodriguez has thrown Chris Hudgins and Jacob Nottingham.
“At first, any catcher you throw to takes some getting used to. Me and Adley have been throwing each other for almost three years now, so it’s definitely different not having him behind the plate,” said Rodriguez. “You gel quickly with the catchers. I think our organization does a good job of letting them all call the same game.”
His dominance at a new level makes his hot start even more impressive, but this type of performance has come to be expected of Rodriguez. Last year, he had no problem facing High-A and Double-A hitters, posting a 2.36 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP with 161 K’s to 27 walks in 23 starts and 103 innings. His stats for him were in line with his career numbers for him; in 230 2/3 innings, Rodriguez has a 2.34 ERA with 333 strikeouts and a 0.91 WHIP.
“In the Minor Leagues, it’s all about development. Numbers are something that come second,” said Rodriguez. “The thing that I worry about the most is walks. My dad beat into my head when I was younger that a walk is the only thing that you can’t defend.”
If his first three starts serve as a preview for the rest of his season, Rodriguez should earn a call-up to Baltimore this year. The Orioles’ rotation took a hit with the news that ace John Means could miss the remainder of the season with a left elbow strain, so Rodriguez seems like a natural fit to take his spot. That promotion will likely come later in the season, as Baltimore has no reason to rush the development of its prized pitching prospect.