SARASOTA—Grayson Rodriguez will not be starting the season with the Orioles. Instead, he will be going to Triple-A Norfolk.
Rodriguez, the Orioles’ top-rated pitching prospect and the second-rated pitching prospect in baseball, had a difficult spring with a 7.04 earned-run average in five starts.
In his first two starts, he allowed one run on three hits in 4 2/3 innings to Detroit and Minnesota, but he allowed 14 runs, 12 earned, on 17 hits in 10 2/3 innings in his last three starts. In each of those starts, he had a rough inning—the fourth in the first two, and the third against the Tigers on March 23rd.
“Our move was to option him to the minor leagues, get him back on track,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said on Monday. “It was not a representative spring training for him. I anticipate that we’ll get him ASAP, and I look forward to doing so.”
Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer, Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells are the Orioles’ five starters to begin the season.
“That was a big competition,” Elias said. “Certainly a difficult one. It wasn’t the hope that I had or I think anybody had coming in, but bottom line, we want to put ourselves into the best position to win these first five games and the games that come right after that. We’re trying to win every game that we can to start the season, and we evaluated that those five pitchers — Gibson, Kremer, Irvin, Bradish and Wells give us our best bet. We don’t want to put Grayson Rodriguez into the bullpen.”
Elias was disappointed with Rodriguez’s spring, and he emphasized that he didn’t want to make this move.
“He just didn’t have a good start this spring,” Elias said. “He didn’t get out of the fourth inning. Even at the end, that was the case. It seemed like the second time through the order and the third inning was an issue. He wasn’t able to establish his slider as well as we’ve seen him do in the past. Command was not as good as we’ve seen him do in the past and these other guys stayed healthy and they pitched better and they all had major league track records and they’ve earned these spots, too.
“Coming down to him and Wells for the final spot, these are starting pitchers, and they’re good ones. They’re big parts of our organization now and in the future, and to take them and to put them in the bullpen is not something that we want to do lightly.
“We’re going to need all these starting pitchers to get through the season and it’s just the start of the season. This isn’t anything permanent. I’ve never seen a team go through a season with the same starting pitchers for the whole season. We’re going to need more starters. We’re going to need Grayson We’re going to need DL Hall. We’re going to need [Spenser] Watkins. We’re going to need [Bruce Zimmermann]. We’re going to need all these guys. They’re just starting the year off the roster, but that could change in one day.”
Rodriguez took the news well, manager Brandon Hyde said.
“Any time you have those types of conversations it’s not easy,” Hyde said after Monday’s game. “I think like all of our guys he handled it like a pro, and move on from there.”
Rodriguez missed three months last season because of a lat injury, delaying his major league debut. Now, it’s delayed further.
Elias said the Orioles decided against using Rodriguez in tandem with another starter.
“These guys aren’t hugely built out as it is, the ones that we’re breaking camp with,” Elias said. “April tends to be a little bit strenuous on a bullpen to begin with and so if you’re going six-man rotation or you’re going piggyback, that’s one fewer true bullpen spot. I also find that piggybacks are really hard to execute at the major league level when you’re trying to win.”
Elias said he expected relief pitcher Mychal Givens to begin the season on the 10-day injured list. He has been hampered by a sore left knee and abruptly ended a frustrating simulated game on Sunday morning after throwing only 10 pitches.
“Hopefully, it’s not too long, but I don’t see a way to get him ready for the season now,” Elias said. “He’s doing fine. He’s doing better. I know he walked off the other day, but I don’t think it’s anything catastrophic. It just didn’t feel great. Now, it’s put him behind in terms of getting him ready, so he’s going to be late to join the team. I don’t have a timetable yet, but I’m hopeful it’s like a first half of April thing.”
Catcher James McCann is also likely to begin the season on the injured list because of a left oblique injury. The Orioles will bring another catcher, presumably Anthony Bemboom, to Boston to begin the season and make a 40-man roster move.
“We’ll decide tomorrow, but it’s possible that James doesn’t get on the plane to Boston tomorrow,” Elias said.
None of the left-handed hitting first basemen/outfielders made the club. Josh Lester and Ryan O’Hearn were reassigned to minor league camp. Franchy Cordero was released after he exercised an opt-out clause in his contract. Elias indicated that Cordero could return if he doesn’t find a major league job elsewhere.
“I expect that we will see many, if not all, those guys play for the Orioles at some point during the season,” Elias said. “That’s the plan, and that’s why we built so much depth.”
Outfielder Nomar Mazara was also released after exercising an opt-out.
Right-handed pitchers Eduard Bazardo, Reed Garrett, catcher Maverick Handley, outfielder Daz Cameron and infielder Jordan Westburg were also reassigned to minor league camp.
According to a report in The Athletic, the Orioles are acquiring left-handed pitcher Danny Coulombe from Minnesota, but Elias declined comment on it.
“We’re looking at the waiver wire, but the out-clause market, too, and that’s part of the uncertainty that carries through the next few days into Thursday,” he said.
The Orioles still have some extra relievers on the roster. Assuming that Keegan Akin, Bryan Baker, Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez and Austin Voth are in the bullpen, they’ll choose from Mike Baumann, Logan Gillaspie, Joey Krehbiel and Rule 5 draft choice Andrew Politi for the remaining spots.
Elias said that if the team doesn’t make any other moves, outfielders Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers and utility man Terrin Vavra would begin the season with the team.
“If they haven’t been optioned, that’s somewhat instructive right now,” Elias said. “It’s Monday. We don’t set the rosters until Thursday. There’s an entire league with opt-outs and putting guys on waiver and all kinds of crazy stuff. I just wait to speak to things when it’s time to speak to things in this business because some stuff can happen.”
The spring training roster is at 31 with more moves coming. The 26-man roster does not have to be set until noon Thursday. The Orioles start the season on Thursday against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park at 2:10 p.m.