If Grayson Rodriguez’s flourishing early career unfolds as so many expect, he’ll have plenty more postseason, pre-start press conferences in his future.
If the theme he hit on countless times in Saturday’s — his ability to deal with adversity and stay strong mentally — is demonstrated when he takes the ball in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Sunday, he might have one or two more this October, too.
Such is the load the Orioles, down 1-0 and with another loss facing the prospect of two win-or-go-home games in Texas, are putting on the 23-year-old right-hander — and all of their young players, for that matter.
Manager Brandon Hyde has said several times this week his players are made for the moment they’re in. We are about to find out.
“I don’t think the moment has ever been too big for this team so far this year,” Hyde said. “I’m proud of the way we played the last month, month and a half with a lot of pressure. I felt like we’ve been playing in a playoff-type pressure for a while.”
There are no verdicts delivered on that front quickly, though results were mixed Saturday. Rodriguez’s fellow former first-round pick DL Hall recorded five crucial outs with three strikeouts to keep the game close. At the plate, fellow building blocks Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson were 0-for-3 with a walk and 1-for-4 with a single, respectively.
Sunday will be our first glimpse of Rodriguez in that spotlight, with so much in this series riding on the Texan’s broad shoulders, though he has minor league playoff experience. He allowed four runs in six innings in a playoff start in 2019 for Low-A Delmarva, and five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in 2021 for Double-A Bowie.
Neither of those means anything for plenty of reasons, but especially because Rodriguez is far better now than he was then, even when he was the top pitching prospect in baseball. That’s been the process for all of the Orioles’ young stars and established veterans throughout this rebuild. Get a taste of the majors, get humbled by the level at some point, then eventually learn from that and grow into a better player for it.
There are examples of it up and down the roster. Rodriguez is being challenged on that front in a significant way Sunday. So much about what he’s done in the second half has pointed to him living up to his front-end starter potential. That requires stuff, of course, and his is as good as anyone around. But it also requires a resilient mentality, which as he noted Saturday he now has, and a consistent ability to deliver when your club needs it.
That’s what top, top starters do, and that’s what the Orioles need from Rodriguez on Sunday. Hyde is likely to have every pitcher on staff available save for Game 1 starter Kyle Bradish and likely Hall, who threw 25 pitches. Everyone else he used threw 13 or fewer, so while they’ll still be on a back-to-back, the front half will have been a modest workload.
Hyde won’t shy away from the active management style he’s shown late in the season and demonstrated Saturday, but Rodriguez could take the option out of his hands in a positive way by getting deep into the game and limiting Texas’ relentless offense to a fitful afternoon.
It’s not all that’s required for the Orioles to even the series; some better at-bats would help. But any kind of offensive revival will need to work in concert with a start from Rodriguez that shows just how much adversity he — and the team he’ll be a part of for a long time — can thrive in the face of.