Grayson Rodriguez now has the benefit of hindsight.

Whenever the Orioles right-hander has free time during a busy offseason that has included marrying his longtime partner, Madison, hunting bucks throughout Texas and working out at APEC’s training facility, he’s in front of a screen. He has 23 games to scour. He nitpicks each of them — the 23 starts from his rookie year in Baltimore — as he plots a path forward.

That path will lead him to his second full season in the majors, and with it come multiple considerations. Batters will know Rodriguez better, even as he grows in understanding how to get them out. Within an Orioles rotation that hasn’t added a high-end arm through free agency or a trade this offseason, Rodriguez may well be expected to shoulder an even larger role. And, when the postseason arrives once more, Rodriguez will be counted upon to deliver this time.

So he sits in front of the screen, those 23 game broadcasts playing, and he analyzes each pitch.

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“When we make the playoffs again this year, I think we’ll be a little bit better than that, just everybody being in that atmosphere and knowing what to expect.”

Orioles pitcher Grayson Rodriguez

“Look at some good; look at some bad,” Rodriguez said. “Seeing all that from a fresh perspective.”

There were plenty of both, and Rodriguez was quick to admit that. Over the course of his first 10 starts, Rodriguez was perfectly imperfect. He made five starts in which he allowed four runs or more, and he made five starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer.

That’s not a surprising scattershot for a nascent pitcher in baseball’s toughest division. Rodriguez regrouped in the minors and returned to Baltimore in July. His ERA over the last 13 games of his season: 2.58, the fifth best in the majors after the All-Star break.

“Obviously, the first half was pretty rough,” Rodriguez said. “That basically sums it up. Looking it back and seeing, we should’ve thrown a lot more fastballs. I should’ve thrown a lot more fastballs.”

There were other factors at play early, including a curveball that Rodriguez didn’t place consistently for strikes, and a slider and changeup that didn’t have the full breadth of movement they displayed throughout his time in the minor leagues.

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But, at the core of the issue was a lack of fastballs, and Rodriguez remedied that when he returned in July. By September, Rodriguez was throwing his fastball 56.7% of the time — a 12.2-percentage point increase from May. The results backed up the tactic of pounding the zone with heaters.

Rodriguez pitches during his best game of the season, against the Rays in September. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Rodriguez continually returns to his final start against the Tampa Bay Rays. Midway through September, Rodriguez pitched his best game of the season, twirling eight shutout innings with five hits and seven strikeouts. His pitch mix that day featured 69% fastballs, with only a handful of curveballs, changeups and sliders.

“Being able to command the fastball that day,” Rodriguez said. “Throwing into the eighth inning, being somewhat efficient on the way there, and that was really just fastball command. Letting guys put it in play, hit ground balls or fly balls or whatever it might be, and that’s something I’m really going to focus on for this next season.”

As a result, Rodriguez is tinkering with adding another fastball to his repertoire. This offseason, Rodriguez has begun to throw a two-seam fastball — unlike the cut of a four-seamer, Rodriguez’s two-seamer has more arm-side run that could jam a right-handed batter.

“It’s not something we’re going to rely on a whole bunch,” Rodriguez said. “Just more something of a trial and error here during the offseason and maybe carry it into spring training, see how we are before the games that really count take place. Just kind of giving us something to toy around with a little bit.”

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There is a balance to his fastball-heavy approach, though. Rodriguez also finds himself watching his performance against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series, in which he allowed five runs in 1 2/3 innings. He threw nearly all fastballs — a plan of attack that had worked for much of the latter half of the year — but on that occasion Baltimore fell into a series hole in part because of Rodriguez’s short start and the bullpen’s collapse later.

Fewer than half of those fastballs against the Rangers were within the strike zone. His velocity was there — in fact, it was even higher than usual — and, in a sense, that was a problem.

“Going out there, really just trying to throw a ball through a brick wall, and that wasn’t the answer,” Rodriguez said.

When Rodriguez overthrows his four-seam fastball, the pitch’s movement actually mirrors that of a two-seam fastball. That is, once the four-seamer leaves his hand, it has arm-side run. That made it difficult to control.

“All the energy and just being amped up, I think I was doing too much,” Rodriguez said. “That kind of gives me the experience to know what it feels like in that atmosphere, how big the stakes are, all the energy and everything going into it. When we make the playoffs again this year, I think we’ll be a little bit better than that, just everybody being in that atmosphere and knowing what to expect.”

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As Rodriguez watches those 23 games again, he pretends he’s on the mound alongside himself. Before he knows what pitch will come out of his past self’s hand, Rodriguez makes a call now, using what he knows about himself — and about his opponents — to make better pitch sequencing choices.

More often than not, his new call is for a fastball.

Rodriguez will enter the 2024 season with raised expectations — for himself and from within the organization. He’ll carry a larger innings load and navigate a reloaded American League East, and he may once again start a postseason game.

His heater, he knows, will guide him through.

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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