It started and ended with a strikeout, but the in-between pitches included some turbulence for right-hander Grayson Rodriguez on Tuesday in Double-A Bowie. But the results were less important than the fact he’s here, healthy on the mound and part of a five-day rotation again.
After finishing two innings at 40 pitches, Rodriguez said he’s on schedule to make his third start on Sunday for the Baysox since returning from a Grade 2 right lat muscle strain that kept him off a professional mound for three months.It’s all part of a path toward the Orioles, the destination Rodriguez still has circled despite his midseason setback due to injury.
“Pitching in the big leagues is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the main goal right now. That’s the focus: just to get myself ready. We’re close. I think this next outing is when we’re really going to get in there and turn it on. How my body’s moving, it’s feeling a lot better than last week, so I expect the same jump forward for next start.”
Rodriguez cruised through the first inning for the Baysox against the Richmond Flying Squirrels on 11 pitches, topping out at 98 mph with his fastball to strike out two. But despite opening with another punchout in the second, Rodriguez gave up a double to left — Casey Schmitt later scored on a wild pitch.
Rodriguez also walked two batters, just as he did at High-A Aberdeen last week. Once the second ended with his 45-pitch limit only five offerings away, Rodriguez threw in the bullpen to finish his day. Last week, making a rehab start for the IronBirds, Rodriguez threw 31 pitches. He doesn’t yet know what his pitch count will be Sunday, but he expects to continue progressing.
“This is the best my arm’s ever felt, honestly since I was in high school,” Rodriguez said. “The long break, getting in there and being able to do rehab, my arm is stronger than it was before. So really, that’s the positive I’m taking away from it.”
Rodriguez was on the verge of a major league debut before he left his start in Triple-A Norfolk prematurely on June 1. Rodriguez thought it was a cramp. In fact, he suffered a strain that shut him down for much of the next two months.
The 22-year-old prospect held a 2.09 ERA across 56 innings for the Tides before his injury. Rodriguez, who is the top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, had 80 strikeouts compared to 14 walks in those appearances.
In his first rehab start in Aberdeen, Rodriguez mixed his repertoire well, even with two walks included in his 1 1/3 innings. On Tuesday, Rodriguez did the same, with his slider and changeup especially effective. The Nacogdoches, Texas, native threw six straight balls in the second inning before he rebounded with an inning-ending strikeout.
“The ball felt good,” Rodriguez said. “The hop was good out of hand. Spin direction was good. Obviously, there was a few up and out of the zone, but heaters in general, I felt like I could get it by guys when I went up with it.”