The sharp comebacker that knocked young starter Kyle Bradish onto the injured list on Monday and pulled top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez – at least temporarily – into the starting rotation has created a bit of early-season intrigue for a team that figures to need every bit of its improved pitching depth.
Rodriguez shook off a rocky first inning and lived up to the national recognition with a solid performance against the Texas Rangers in his big league debut on Wednesday, which left room to wonder how his unexpected arrival will impact the rotation going forward.
The appropriate cliché for this kind of situation is that it’s “a good problem to have,” but that won’t make the decisions any easier.
“We hope that all these guys throw well, honestly,’’ manager Brandon said Hyde said before Friday’s 7-6 victory over the Yankees in the Orioles’ home opener. “You’re not going to go through the season with five starters. Things are going to happen. Fluke things like what happened to Kyle, who takes a liner off his foot. Injuries are going to happen in this game and you play for six months and we’re going to need more than six starters, more than likely. If we don’t, that would be unbelievable.
“You’ve got to have talent in this league and you’ve got to have depth. We have a lot more talent and a lot more depth than we had in the past and that’s a good thing. That’s a great thing, so we’ll see.”
Rodriguez will likely start two more times before Bradish is eligible to return on April 19th, so how Rodriguez performs will play large in the future makeup of the pitching staff, but Hyde said the one pitcher it will not affect is Bradish.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next couple weeks,’’ said Hyde, who still hasn’t named a starter for Sunday’s game. “Kyle threw the ball extremely well in the spring and was throwing great that night. Had great stuff up until he got hit in the foot, so he’s going to be back in there when he comes off the IL and we’ll see where we go from there.”
In a sense, the Bradish injury simply rekindled the spring training competition for the final spots in the rotation. Rodriguez did not come up big during the exhibition season, posting a 7.04 earned-run average that left the club with little choice but to return him to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides roster. Tyler Wells won the fifth slot but gave up his initial starting assignment to bail out the club with five hitless innings the night that Bradish went down.
So, it’s pretty hard to handicap the situation. Wells did a terrific job in the emergency relief role and would likely have broken camp in the bullpen if he had not pushed Rodriguez out of the projected rotation. Does he get his so-far unrealized starting job back, or did he just prove that he provides greater value in what would be a key bullpen role on a team where middle relief is of particular importance?
If the team thinks that Wells – like Bradish – deserves to return to his original job, then the focus could shift to Friday’s starter, Dean Kremer, who emerged as one of the club’s top young starters last year but has failed to hold large leads in each of his first two starts.
Of course, that will all depend on Rodriguez, who will be impossible to dislodge if he continues to pitch well. He was supposed to join the rotation early last season before a lat injury set him back. He impressed everyone with the way he shook off that difficult first inning on Wednesday and shut down a very strong Texas Rangers lineup through the fifth inning.
Clearly, that performance boosted his confidence and wiped away any frustration that might have carried over from a disappointing spring.
“I think that experience will [make it] a lot easier,’’ Rodriguez said Friday. “Obviously, nothing in the big leagues is easy, but I definitely think I won’t be as nervous for the second [start]. Right now, I’m just going to prepare to throw [in] the next rotation spot.”