Baseball managers hate “What if? questions, but I asked one anyway during Brandon Hyde’s pregame press briefing on Tuesday afternoon.
The subject, of course, was the future of rookie pitcher Grayson Rodriguez, who was about to make his Camden Yards debut on a night when half the crowd would be wearing T-shirts with his name on them.
He pitched pretty well in his first start in Texas last week, but this hasn’t exactly been a picture-book spring for one of the most anticipated young pitchers in Orioles history, so at least one inquiring mind wanted to know if he’s here for good regardless of his performance during these first few big league starts.
Which brings us to the actual query, which I freely admitted might not be the most incisive one I have ever made:
“Brandon, this may sound like a stupid question, but when you’re talking about him learning at this level, are you and the club committed to him doing all the rest of his learning at this level no matter what?”
You wouldn’t think there would be any question about that, considering that Rodriguez entered the season considered by some ranking entities to be the top pitching prospect in the sport, but the O’s are no longer in the business of auditioning future stars without prioritizing immediate results. Everyone is going to have to pull his own weight.
“We’re keeping our options open with everything, honestly, and we’re trying to win,” Hyde said. “So we feel like whoever is giving us our best chance to win, that’s who we’re going with.”
Of course, that’s what he has to say in a situation where the Orioles’ starter depth likely will exceed the number of slots in the rotation when Kyle Bradish returns from the injured list, but the question didn’t seem quite so stupid after Rodriguez struggled with his command throughout a rocky 4 1/3-inning performance that resulted in five earned runs, six hits and four walks in Tuesday night’s 12-8 victory over the Oakland A’s.
He will start at least one more time before the club has to decide who will stay in the rotation and who will either move into a middle relief role or be optioned out. It still seems highly unlikely that Rodriguez will be sent back to Triple-A Norfolk to work on his control, since the Orioles have other logical alternatives.
Hyde has already said Bradish gets his slot back regardless. He pitched well in the spring and did nothing to alter that great first impression other than fail to dodge a wicked comebacker in last week’s series opener in Texas.
It was in that game that next-day starter Tyler Wells temporarily gave up his place in the rotation to bail the club out with a fantastic five-inning relief effort. He came back to pitch six so-so innings in a losing effort against the Yankees on Sunday, leaving room to wonder if he inadvertently made a case for a return to the bullpen when – and if — that decision day arrives.
The Orioles also could use that role to stash Rodriguez if he needs more time to work out his command issues, but Hyde seemed pretty pleased with the stuff his young phenom brought into his second start and chalked up the results to some “rookie mistakes” — specifically a series of fat 0-2 pitches that even a soft lineup such as the rebuilding A’s seemed to have little trouble turning into hits.
“Early, I think we made some mistakes 0-2, throwing pitches too close to the zone,’’ Rodriguez said, “and obviously had to pay the price for it. Obviously, big league hitters are going to make you pay for it. Big league hitters will put a barrel on it and get a hit. And then late, falling behind in the counts early, you can’t do that either.”
Still, Rodriguez was all smiles after his long-awaited first start at Oriole Park, largely because he threw more than 90 pitches (99) for the first time in four years and got a standing ovation from the crowd even though he needed that many to get just 13 outs.
“Man, that was probably the most awesome thing I’ve ever been a part of,’’ he said, “I guess to see Oriole Park at Camden Yards from the pitcher’s mound is something I’ll never forget.”
His next start likely will come on Sunday against the White Sox in Chicago.