Oriole fans had to be disappointed when they learned that top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez could be out until at least September and possibly the rest of the season because of a lat strain. The lat muscle is below the shoulder blade and, as an important core component, plays a major role in pitching mechanics.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias told reporters on Sunday that if Rodriguez doesn’t return by September, he could begin the 2023 season with the Orioles.
Rodriguez was close to joining the Orioles, but when he left Triple-A Norfolk’s game on June 1st after 5 2/3 innings. Elias couldn’t hide his disappointment. “The timing of this really stinks,” he said. “He was basically at the point of checking every box you could think of as far as his minor league work.”
The Orioles hope that Rodriguez can pitch again this year. Rodriguez has thrown only 56 innings this season. If he returns for the last month, perhaps he could add 20 or 30 innings.
Even though Rodriguez threw 105 2/3 innings last year for High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie, Elias didn’t specify any limit for his innings in 2022, only the hope that he’d be able to complete the season.
It’s too soon to speculate on how many innings Rodriguez could pitch next season, but it would be better if he could build up his innings before the season ends.
Rodriguez is the fourth pitcher to suffer a significant injury this season. The Orioles’ top starter, John Means, had Tommy John surgery, which may not allow him to pitch until a year from now. Another prospect, Kyle Brnovich, who was obtained in the trade for starter Dylan Bundy, also had Tommy John surgery. Chris Ellis underwent season-ending labrum surgery.
Pitching is an unnatural motion and most pitchers, even the successful ones, suffer major injuries.
Of the top 10 active leaders in earned-run average — Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Corey Kluber, Hyun Jin Ryu, Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner — all but Cole has suffered a injury that’s cost them significant time.
Until a year ago, Rodriguez, who is the top pitching prospect in baseball, was assumed to follow DL Hall to the major leagues. Hall was the Orioles’ top draft pick in 2017, Rodriguez was 2018’s top selection.
Hall began 2021 with Bowie, and Rodriguez at Aberdeen, but when Hall suffered an elbow injury last June, Rodriguez leaped ahead of him. Now, barring another health setback, it looks as if Hall could make his major league debut before Rodriguez.
Hall was held back in Sarasota to begin the season. After pitching five strong innings on Sunday for Norfolk, he’s thrown 29 1/3 innings. With his next start, he’ll pass his 2021 innings total of 31 2/3 innings.
His five innings was a season high, and he threw 72 pitches, allowing two runs on two hits, striking out nine, another season high. He issued two walks.
The only worry about Hall is his control. He has walked 13 batters in 21 2/3 innings for the Tides, a 5.4 average per nine innings.
A decade ago when fans were eager for the Orioles to promote Bundy, who was then their top pitching prospect, former manager Buck Showalter told reporters: Four walks in Bowie is more walks here.
Elias wants to make sure that Hall remains in the rotation for the rest of the season. It is fair to wonder if Hall’s innings are limited, why aren’t those innings coming with the Orioles, and the guess here is that Hall isn’t far from a promotion.
While Rodriguez begins his rehabilitation in Sarasota and Hall awaits his recall, catcher Adley Rutschman continues to learn at the major league level.
Rutschman, who enters Tuesday’s game with the Chicago Cubs in an 0-for-17 slump, has continued to play solid defense and remain engaged with the Orioles’ pitching staff.
His offensive struggles and .137 batting average shouldn’t be a surprise. It often happens to top prospects.
After missing a year in 2020 because of the pandemic, Rutschman played in only 179 minor league games, and he walked almost as many times as he struck out (110 to 124).
In his first two weeks in the major leagues, Rutschman has struck out 15 times and walked just four times.
A year ago, the Orioles’ regular catcher, Pedro Severino, hit .248 with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs, but Severino was a below-average defensive catcher.
Even with Rutschman’s struggles at the plate, the Orioles are a more solid team defensively than they were in 2021. His backup, Robinson Chirinos, is batting only .133, but the combination of Rutschman and Chirinos has helped to make Oriole pitching much better this season than it was a year ago.
On Monday, the team announced that two bright infield prospects, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, had been promoted from Bowie to Norfolk.
Henderson, who’s still 20, had a tough time offensively at Aberdeen in 2021, but this year he has starred for the Baysox with a 1.025 OPS, and walked more times (41) than he has struck out.
It will be interesting to watch the progress of Henderson and Westburg with the Tides and see if their early promotions to Triple-A are a sign that their time with the Orioles is near.
The top minor league talent is being moved quickly and challenged, and if they produce at Norfolk, perhaps we’ll see them sooner than anticipated.
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