Baltimore Orioles 2023 in review: A tale of two halves for Grayson Rodriguez

Grayson Rodriguez had a unique start to his MLB career, featuring countless highs and lows throughout his first campaign.
Washington Nationals v Baltimore Orioles
Washington Nationals v Baltimore Orioles / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages

Grayson Rodriguez began the season as the best pitching prospect in all of baseball thanks to his pure dominance at the minor league level. The Orioles have been searching for a true ace on the mound for years now, and Grayson Rodriguez absolutely looked the part.

Coming into spring training, all signs pointed towards Rodriguez making the opening day roster and filling one of the last spots in the rotation. If he put together a solid spring training, he would have a very good chance at making the roster. Sadly, this didn't happen.

How did Grayson Rodriguez's season unfold?

Struggles to start

Rodriguez struggled mightily in spring training, allowing 15 runs (12 earned) in just 15.2 innings of work. He looked outmatched on the mound and simply struggled to get quick outs. He was outplayed by the likes of Cole Irvin, Tyler Wells, and Kyle Bradish, forcing him to start the season in Triple-A.

I think I speak for all fans when I say we were disappointed that Rodriguez didn't earn an opening day spot. But Rodriguez's stint at Norfolk didn't last for long. He made just one start before being promoted to the majors after Kyle Bradish sustained an injury in his first start of the season.

His first start was a solid one, lasting 5 innings and striking out 5 batters while allowing just 2 runs. But the inconsistencies for Rodriguez began shortly after his first outing. 4 of his next 9 starts saw Rodriguez allow at least 5 earned runs, including an 8-run and 9-run outing.

Grayson Rodriguez
Baltimore Orioles v Texas Rangers / Bailey Orr/Texas Rangers/GettyImages

Rodriguez was getting hit hard, but he also wasn't making it deep into his starts. His longest start was just 5.2 innings, and he had 3 outings where he didn't make through 4 innings. Rodriguez showed flashes, but the consistency just wasn't there. After a 9 run explosion against the eventual World Series Champion Rangers, Rodriguez was sent back down to the minors.

A complete 180

Rodriguez spent a little over a month in the minors working on his command and pitch mix before being promoted once again on July 17th. From that date on, Rodriguez was a completely different pitcher. Rodriguez had an ERA of just 3.18 in July, 2.64 in August, and 2.17 in September. He looked like the ace that everyone was hoping he would be.

Rodriguez was also getting much deeper into his starts, making it at least 6 innings in 7 of his last 13 starts. He also went under 5 innings in just 1 of those starts. He had multiple signature performances, including an 8 inning, 7 strikeout performance against the division rival Rays in the middle of the playoff race.

Grayson Rodriguez
Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

But what changed for Rodriguez? He was a completely different pitcher when he returned, and I think this can be attributed to a couple different things. For starters, his mentality seemed different. Young pitchers always try to be too perfect when they get promoted. We saw the same thing with Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish. Instead of attacking the zone, they try to eat around the edges and strike everyone out. I think Rodriguez was trying to do the same thing.

So after he was promoted, you could see he was just trusting his stuff. He was more confident in his pitches and was attacking the zone with his fastball. Another reason for his success was that he completely ditched the cutter. When he made his first stint with the O's, he would use his cutters to get back into advantageous counts, leading to it getting hit hard very often.

The numbers on his cutter are not good. Opponents had a slugging percentage of over .800 against his cutter and they were hitting .316 against it. It just seemed to always run over the plate and it got Rodriguez into a lot of trouble. But in the second half of his season, Rodriguez relied more on his fastball and incorporated more of his breaking balls and changeups into his repertoire.

As I mentioned earlier, the results were tremendous after these changes and the second half of his season is what I expect to see from Grayson Rodriguez going forward. He has legitimate ace potential and his stuff is some of the best in the entire league.

The Verdict

I think Rodriguez's season was a very successful one. His numbers over the course of the entire season may not be the most impressive, but the context really matters. Young pitchers often struggle when they first enter the league and I don't think that is any different for Rodriguez. He needed to get his feet wet in the majors and learn from his mistakes, and I think he did just that.

The biased Orioles fan in me wants to give Rodriguez an A for his rookie season, mainly because I was so encouraged by his second half and I'm extremely confident in his ability going forward. But realistically, when you consider his first-half performance and rough post-season debut, I think a B+ is much more fair for Rodriguez.

He was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in the second half of the season (along with his teammate Kyle Bradish) and he looks the part going forward as well. I think Rodriguez will be one of the Orioles' best pitchers for years to come and I'm giving him a B+ for his first season in the show.