Grayson Rodriguez came into this season as a consensus top 10 prospect and arguably the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. But his career didn't get off to an ideal start. He entered the rotation in just the second series of the season after Kyle Bradish was placed on the I.L, and recorded a solid debut against the Texas Rangers. But his consistency became an issue.
Rodriguez showed flashes of potential early in the season, but also featured some crippling issues. He wasn't getting deep into games and would struggle anytime the 6th inning would roll around. Through his first 10 starts, Rodriguez never made it past 5.2 innings and some of his promising outings were often overshadowed by his late inning struggles.
He was also very prone to the home run , allowing 13 in his first 10 starts. The tipping point came after his outing against the Rangers on May 26th, where he allowed 9 runs in just over 3 innings. This outing raised his ERA in May to 11.14 and led to his demotion back to Triple-A Norfolk.
But after spending some time at Norfolk, Rodriguez returned to the majors where he has looked exactly like the ace Orioles fans expect him to be. Let's take a closer look at his success since his return.
Grayson Rodriguez has made noticeable improvements since being called back up
Since returning to the majors on July 17th, Rodriguez has posted a 3.45 ERA in 28.2 innings with 24 strikeouts. Even though a 3.45 ERA is extremely solid (especially compared to his early season numbers), he's gotten extremely unlucky with inherited runners.
In 3 of his 5 starts he's been removed from the game with two runners on base. In 2 of those 3 games both of his runners have scored off of Orioles middle relievers. Obviously you wish he hadn't allowed them to get on in the first place, but the Orioles bullpen hasn't been doing him any favors.
Rodriguez has also been much better at limiting base runners and homeruns. Since his return, Rodriguez has a WHIP of just 1.08 and has allowed zero homeruns. As I previously mentioned, that's a huge improvement over his home run totals from the first 10 starts of his career.
He's also corrected his biggest issue, getting deep into ball games. Since returning to the majors, he's recorded at least 6 innings twice, 5.2 innings twice, and made it 5 innings in his first start since being recalled. He's also recorded 2 quality starts in that time frame, which he had never done before in the majors.
What has changed?
I think the most notable change to Rodriguez's game is the mindset. In his first stint in the majors, Rodriguez looked like he was trying to be to perfect. He wasn't attacking hitters, resulting in some very unfavorable hitters counts where he was forced to throw a strike.
We've seen this in the past with other Orioles starters as well, such as Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish. They both were very heavy strikeout pitchers when they first broke into the majors, and it led to serious issues for them. But once they began to trust their stuff and pound the zone with strikes, they became two of the most successful and reliable pitchers on the staff.
We've seen this with Rodriguez since his return as well. His strikeouts are way down compared to the first half of the season, but he's been a much more successful pitcher. He's allowing hitters to put the ball in play, resulting in more quick outs and efficient innings. This is a great sign for Rodriguez because we know the swing-and-miss ability will always be there for him, but it was essential that he became more efficient.
Another notable change has been his pitch usage. In the beginning of the season, Rodriguez used his cutter roughly 12 percent of the time. It was his 3rd most used pitch, sitting behind just his fastball and changeup. The problem was that his cutter was getting killed anytime he threw it. Rodriguez's cutter has allowed an opponent batting average of .316 and a slugging percentage .842 on the season. So the Orioles told him to stop throwing it. Since his return to the majors, Rodriguez has thrown his cutter under 2 percent of the time.
To go along with the reduced usage percentage of his cutter, they've had Rodriguez throw his fastball and slider way more often. He's been throwing his fastball over 50 percent of the time, that's a substantial increase from April and May when he would throw it just over 40 percent of the time.
The slider has become his most used secondary pitch, with him throwing it roughly 25 percent of the time so far this month. I think this adjustment by the Orioles was necessary, His slider could be considered one of the best pitches in all of baseball. According to Baseball Savant, the pitch has held opposing hitters to a .175 batting average and he hasn't given up an extra base hit on it all season.
Overall, Rodriguez has been a massive boost to a starting rotation that needed another impact starter. He looks like he's on the way to becoming the true ace that this staff has been searching for for years now. It's going to be exciting to see Grayson Rodriguez continue to improve and pitch in meaningful games throughout the rest of the season and for years to come.