Hours earlier, before the assembled fans at Camden Yards rose to their feet to shower Grayson Rodriguez with a standing ovation, Orioles general manager Mike Elias laid out a reasonable take on the pitching prospect’s major league career thus far.
Elias called it “gritty,” acknowledging how not every start has been flawless but noting that Rodriguez has battled through them. He pointed to all of this as valuable learning experiences for Rodriguez, and said how, on the whole, Rodriguez has helped the Orioles rotation.
But even then, “I think he’s nowhere near the pitcher that we’re gonna see when he kind of matures into his prime as a major league starter,” Elias said. “We should kind of all enjoy watching a gifted young pitcher like this pitch in the major leagues for the first time, and that’s not all gonna be perfect.”
Amid those natural ebbs and flows for a rookie starting pitcher came the highs of Tuesday night’s 4-2 victory, featuring the passion as Rodriguez struck out Randy Arozarena to strand two Tampa Bay Rays and the standing ovation from a crowd that followed Elias’ advice.
This wasn’t perfect; few outings are. But what Rodriguez displayed was the best start of his career so far, and no matter how short that major league career has been, having it come against the Rays is something to cherish — and something to cheer.
“That was his best start, for me,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He really competed well.”
Rodriguez tipped his cap as he left the mound, having pitched into the sixth inning for the first time this year. He threw 101 pitches, doing so for the first time since pitching for Low-A Delmarva. He was beaten for two solo home runs, once when Wander Franco turned on an inside fastball and again when Taylor Walls pummeled a changeup left over the zone, but beyond those two hard-hit balls, Rodriguez showed a glimpse of the prime Elias referred to.
Rodriguez faced traffic on base each inning, although he minimized the damage with a pick-off at first and two double plays within the first three innings. He roared and smacked the inside of his glove in the fifth, when his 98.3 mph fastball blew past Arozarena’s bat to strand two runners.
“I think the adrenaline was pretty high,” Rodriguez said. “A little mad at myself for letting that snowball a little bit. Next time, we’ll get a little bit better there and do better with two outs.”
Rodriguez then froze Luke Raley with a curveball, his 100th pitch of the game, to record his fourth strikeout. And while his 101st and final offering found outfield grass for a single, Rodriguez deserved the applause.
In Rodriguez’s starts, Baltimore has won each game except his debut in Texas against Jacob deGrom and the Rangers. They’ve varied from Tuesday’s best to last week’s shakiness against the Kansas City Royals, during which he allowed six runs.
“It’s been a short window, but we’re learning as we go, learning after every start,” Rodriguez said. “I think a lot of the mistakes are good. They’re helping me out to have them early, and then we can tighten up and get better down the stretch.”
And over the course of Tuesday’s game, the sights of the future were there. Gunnar Henderson lashed a triple into the right-center gap in the third inning off Tampa Bay right-hander Zach Eflin, and he scored on Jorge Mateo’s groundout.
Later in the frame, catcher Adley Rutschman demolished a two-run shot that became the first Eutaw Street homer of his career. At 111.1 mph, it was the hardest hit ball of Rutschman’s career, according to Statcast data, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The catcher was hitless in his previous 19 at-bats before that long ball, but he broke out of it with a crack that pulled 10,017 fans to their feet.
“No better feeling,” Rutschman said. “No better feeling in baseball. It was nice square one up, get a good swing off.”
Since Rutschman arrived last May, the Orioles are a different team. They recorded their 90th win dating back to May 21, 2022 — the day Rutschman made his major league debut. And with him and Rodriguez the battery Tuesday, the future hopes of an organization were already here.
For so long, since they were first-round picks in 2018 and 2019, fans have waited for Rodriguez and Rutschman to be at the major league level together. Now they’re here, and Rodriguez earned the first home win of his career and Rutschman launched the first Eutaw Street shot of his career on the same night.
“I’d like to see a lot more of that,” Hyde said. “I think all the fans would.”