Aaron Hicks didn’t really have a chance. Not in the first inning, the third inning or the sixth inning. He swung plenty but didn’t look pretty doing so, flailing his bat head at pitches that seemed immune to contact.

Hicks, a former Oriole now playing for the Los Angeles Angels, had the unfortunate distinction of striking out three times against right-hander Grayson Rodriguez. But Hicks wasn’t alone. Barring a solo home run, Rodriguez largely sliced through Los Angeles’ lineup, a standout on a team full of them as the Orioles secured a 13-4 victory in the second game of the season.

Hicks’ first plate appearance was a harbinger of what would follow. The outfielder let loose on a swing but whiffed completely against Rodriguez’s 86-mph changeup. And, with the next pitch, Rodriguez froze his former teammate with a 99-mph fastball on the black for strike three.

“Just being able to establish fastball command, kind of go after the hitters, that helped me out a lot tonight,” Rodriguez said.

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Before the game, manager Brandon Hyde said he hoped Rodriguez would build on the momentum he accrued in the second half of his rookie year, when the 24-year-old compiled a 2.58 ERA over his final 13 starts of the regular season (the fifth best in the majors after the All-Star break).

Hyde also hoped Rodriguez would use the difficulties Rodriguez ran into during his first postseason appearance to drive him.

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Grayson Rodriguez fist bumps catcher Adley Rutschman as they walk back to the dugout. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Rodriguez said this offseason he rewatched his outing against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series, when he allowed five runs in 1 2/3 innings. He saw himself trying to “throw a ball through a brick wall” and realized that wasn’t the answer.

The Nacogdoches, Texas, native’s velocity was there when he needed it Saturday. He reared back to throw his four-seamer at an average of 97 mph. He also controlled the strike zone, walking one batter over six innings. Rodriguez tied a career high with nine strikeouts and drew nine of his 15 whiffs with his changeup. Taylor Ward’s solo shot was the only run against him.

Rodriguez was “pretty eager” to take the mound Saturday, he said, because “that last outing [of 2023] really put a sour taste in my mouth, so being able to come back in this ballpark and kind of erase that and move on to 2024 is pretty big for me.”

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“We’re kind of chomping at the bit this year,” Rodriguez added. “We’ve got something to prove.”

The lone “black cloud on a great night,” Hyde said, was when left-hander Cionel Pérez experienced lower back discomfort in the ninth inning and left the game. Hyde said the reliever will be reevaluated Sunday and is considered day to day.

Before that injury concern arose, Rodriguez compiled an ideal start. He enters with elevated expectations and a larger role, receiving the ball Saturday after right-hander Corbin Burnes mowed through the Angels with 11 strikeouts and no walks on opening day. With right-hander Kyle Bradish headed to Florida to continue rehabbing a sprained UCL and left-hander John Means beginning a rehab assignment at Triple-A Norfolk, Rodriguez is a centerpiece in the rotation.

He lived up to it here. Of course, Rodriguez and Burnes pitched with the benefit of an offense that erupted in the first two games of the season.

“Corbin Burnes, he’s going to strike out a lot of hitters this year,” Hyde said. “And I think Grayson’s strikeout numbers are going to go up. He has that kind of stuff, and as he learns to stay ahead of the count and put guys away with two strikes — it’s his second year in the big leagues — he’s going to get better and better in that.”

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Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (35) and shortstop Gunnar Henderson (2) receive their Silver Slugger awards before a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Camden Yards on March 30, 2024. The Baltimore Orioles beat the Angels, 13-4, to clinch a series win. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Before first pitch, the Orioles welcomed Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman onto the field to accept their Silver Slugger awards earned in 2023. Just minutes later, Henderson began his campaign for a second straight honor by blasting a leadoff homer off right-hander Griffin Canning to right-center.

It was Henderson’s first time seeing his Silver Slugger trophy up close, and he felt humbled by it. “Growing up and seeing guys get them,” he said, “it was pretty special to see one and especially win one in my first year.”

Henderson’s blast was one of many hard-hit balls early off Canning. By the fourth inning, seven of Baltimore’s batted balls had left at 99.9 mph or harder, with a second RBI double from Ryan Mountcastle flashing at 108 mph.

Then the Orioles broke the game open in a sixth inning that seemed never-ending. Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Jordan Westburg powered the first barrage against right-hander Luis García, who replaced Canning during the frame.

Baltimore Orioles right fielder Anthony Santander (25) celebrates with shortstop Gunnar Henderson after homering Saturday. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

A mound visit didn’t disrupt the rhythm. The next three Orioles reached safely, too, among which Henderson tripled. The Orioles plated nine runs in the sixth without an out being recorded. Santander, the ninth batter to come to the plate, skipped out of the batter’s box as his three-run homer off García cleared the right-field fence.

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“It was a lot of fun watching from the dugout, that’s for sure,” Rodriguez said. “With this lineup, pitching, it’s going to make it a lot easier with that run support.”

Baltimore’s 13 runs Saturday and 11 runs Thursday mark the first time in franchise history the team has plated more than 10 in each of its first two games of the season, according to MLB.com. It was a downpour of epic proportions, a show of offensive firepower that could have supported even the shakiest of starts from their pitcher.

Instead, it was almost overkill. Rodriguez will take that kind of backing most outings, but he certainly didn’t need it Saturday. Rodriguez was at his best, opening his second season in the kind of high-flying way he ended his first.