FORT MYERS, Fla. — As manager Brandon Hyde walked to the mound midway through the fourth inning for the second straight Grayson Rodriguez start, the commanding Orioles right-hander stood with his glove covering most of his face. His eyes still peeked out, staring at Hyde, knowing his afternoon was over.

It had quickly unraveled.

There were the two walks and the wild pitch. The throwing error and the RBI double — the latter of which, ricocheting off the mock-Green Monster at jetBlue Park, spelled the end of Rodriguez’s fourth spring training start.

Boston would prevail 9-6.

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In Rodriguez’s last start, Hyde described his rough fourth inning as a learning opportunity. In the dugout Saturday after being pulled with two outs in the fourth, Rodriguez heard the same message.

That can be harder to swallow when the box score isn’t as flattering as the 23-year-old would like, but he is maintaining a belief in the process. There is a chance, though, that the approach of Opening Day is playing on his mind, but Rodriguez sidestepped that idea.

“I’ve been with this organization [since 2018],” Rodriguez said. “I’m really not trying to go out there and show them anything. I’m just trying to go out, throw strikes and get ready for the season.”

But the question remains, when the season does arrive, where will Rodriguez be?

To his catcher, James McCann, that decision is far “above my pay grade,” yet the veteran has seen enough of Rodriguez’s arsenal to feel that “he’s got the stuff. Everybody knows that. That’s not a secret.”

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To executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, the stated intention is to have Rodriguez — one of the top pitching prospects in baseball — included in the Opening Day rotation.

To Hyde, he’s more interested in Rodriguez’s pushing through the stumbling blocks that have tripped him two starts in a row and removing any thoughts of what might be in two weeks’ time from his head.

“I think it’s very, very normal for a young player to feel that way,” Hyde said. “But he’s got great stuff, and he’s going to be a really good starter in this league for a long time. Just want to see him relax and do well these last couple starts.”

Against the Red Sox in Sarasota on March 12, Rodriguez cruised until he didn’t, retiring nine of his first 10 batters before allowing three singles and two walks to the first five batters in the fourth inning.

On ⅔Saturday against the Red Sox, Rodriguez allowed three singles in the first two innings but struck out two batters, part of a dominant early display that featured mainly ground balls.

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Removing the fourth innings of Rodriguez’s last two starts, he has allowed three runs in 10⅔ innings. After reaching the fourth in those games, he has allowed seven alone, although three of those runs were unearned after Rodriguez’s throwing error prevented a would-be double play.

Part of that is facing a lineup for the second time. In the third inning Saturday, the top three Red Sox batters all made hard contact in their second plate appearances. Christian Arroyo lined out, Rafael Devers doubled and Adam Duvall hit a two-run homer on a mistake pitch left in the middle of the zone.

The fourth inning, Hyde thought, came down to some fatigue. For as strong as Rodriguez’s changeup has been this spring — McCann said that pitch will “take him a long way” — Rodriguez had one slip out of his grasp for a wild pitch.

Rodriguez noted that he still might’ve escaped the inning without any damage had he not “rushed the throw” to second for a double play.

“I’m a big believer that you learn more from failure than you do success. It’s easy when you’re having success; you don’t have to make adjustments,” McCann said. “He had so many positives his first couple innings, and then to have that rough inning, it’s probably not a bad thing for him. He can look back at the positives and understand what he did well and take from that rough inning at the end what he needs to to be able to make the adjustments and not let that happen in a game that matters.”

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Not that Rodriguez enjoys it when runs cross against him, even in March. But he knows to pitch in meaningful games come Opening Day and beyond, this is the time to test himself.

“It’s all a learning experience,” he said. “And for it to happen in spring training is obviously a lot better than during the season.”

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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