SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles will break spring training without right-hander Grayson Rodriguez as part of their 26-man opening day roster, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Monday, putting off the right-hander’s long-awaited debut with Baltimore.
The decision over where Rodriguez would start the season has been one of the largest question marks throughout spring training, but the move, which was first reported by The Baltimore Banner, comes at the end of a spring in which Rodriguez didn’t find consistency.
Rodriguez allowed 11 runs in his final 10 2/3 innings of the spring, falling victim to one inning each of his last three starts that unraveled on him. He will report to Triple-A Norfolk while Baltimore rolls with a starting rotation of Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer, Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells — for at least the beginning of the season.
“He just didn’t really have a good start this spring, and kind of didn’t get out of the fourth inning,” Elias said. “It seemed like the second time through the order, that third inning, was an issue. I thought he didn’t establish his slider as well as we’ve seen him do in the past. Command wasn’t as good as we’ve seen him do in the past.”
Elias said the other five pitchers that found spots in the rotation earned their roles based on their spring performances, although that group wasn’t devoid of the occasional hiccup. Rodriguez’s ERA in 15 1/3 innings was 7.04. Wells managed a 5.74 ERA in 15 2/3 innings. Bradish finished with a 6.61 ERA in 16 1/3 frames.
But Rodriguez “was not ready to jump into a major league rotation,” Elias said, noting Rodriguez’s issues getting through the fourth inning. “We know what he’s capable of. I wasn’t expecting this. We were hoping he would show up as a better version of himself than I think we got here, and we just had five other guys who were more deserving at this point in time.”
During the winter, Elias said he hoped Rodriguez would break camp with the Orioles. Rodriguez might have already made his debut last season had he not suffered a lat strain during what was believed to be his final start with Triple-A Norfolk. That injury shelved Rodriguez until late in the 2022 season when he returned to the minor leagues in September.
He entered the spring with high expectations and displayed the high-level “stuff” that has had him near the top of prospect rankings since he was selected in the first round of the 2018 draft. Teammates and coaches raved about Rodriguez’s change-up and high-velocity fastball. This spring, catcher James McCann said Rodriguez has “a chance to be very special,” and Hyde added, “he’s going to be a really good starter in this league for a long time.”
Rodriguez was dominant in Triple-A last season, holding a 2.20 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings. His stay this time in Norfolk isn’t expected to be long, but for the time being, that’s where he’ll begin the 2023 season.
By keeping Rodriguez in the minor leagues for the beginning of the season, the Orioles could gain an extra year of team control over his contract. However, while catcher Adley Rutschman was a late addition to the team last year, he gained a full year of service time by finishing in second place for the American League Rookie of the Year award.
When asked directly whether keeping Rodriguez down was in part due to service time manipulation, Elias said he “really gets frustrated with that topic.”
“We have five starting pitchers here, all of them with established major league success as starting pitchers,” Elias said. “They had good camps. Better camps than these guys. It really wasn’t tough to decide on that last rotation spot through the lens of, who do we want to win these games? ... Adley got hurt last year. That was unfortunate. As soon as he was healthy, we brought him up. Gunnar Henderson, we brought him up, he’s obviously making the team. When guys are ready and the job is theirs and there’s not better options, we bring them up.”
Rodriguez, in the Orioles’ view, is not ready.
While there was the possibility for Rodriguez and Wells to serve as piggyback starters — where two starters are used in one game — Elias wasn’t interested in that avenue because it would take a spot from a bullpen that will be stressed early in the season, when pitchers don’t work as deeply into games.
There will come a time when Rodriguez is ready, Elias said. He wants to see Rodriguez work deeper into games and find better command. The 23-year-old walked seven batters while striking out 19 and allowed 12 earned runs in camp. In Elias’ eyes, the five members of the opening day rotation earned it more.
“It would be wrong of us to send out someone [to the minors] more accomplished, had a better spring, has earned it, is looking sharper, because somebody was a high pick a couple years ago,” Elias said. “We’re out of that mode, and we’re going to go with the best guys and put ourselves in the best position to win these games.”