On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, two Rodriguezes met on the mound to do battle. Despite a shared last name and common ties to the Orioles, these are two very different pitchers, one an eight-year veteran lefty who uses craft and control to win; the other a right-handed rookie with top-prospect status, four career games of experience, and a fastball that can hit 99 on the radar gun.
Now the two Rodriguezes have one more thing in common: both tossed five innings of shutout ball for their teams today. In this head-to-head matchup, it was the veteran Rodriguez who had the clear advantage, however. Against a surging O’s offense, the lefty Rodriguez (hereinafter “E-Rod” for clarity) turned in one of his best career starts, period: six and two-thirds innings of perfect baseball, broken up only by a two-out Ryan Mountcastle single in the bottom of the seventh.
Without Mountcastle’s brilliant eight-pitch at-bat, perhaps E-Rod sticks around to try for the complete game perfecto. As it was, a scoreless tie into the eighth inning became a battle of the bullpens. The Orioles bullpen wobbled first, Cionel Pérez allowing two consecutive singles before a sac bunt and a sac fly scored the game’s first run. Under E-Rod’s evil spell, the Orioles’ offense had slumbered all day, but it woke up just enough to manufacture the tying run, Jorge Mateo playing the sparkplug.
The game went to extras. Well-rested lefty Keegan Akin (well, he’s a brand-new father, so I can only speak about rest in baseball terms) kept the Manfred Man from scoring in the tenth, even as Orioles took the daring approach of intentionally walking two right-handed bats. Then in the bottom half, Terrin Vavra bunted Manfred Man Adam Frazier to third, and a wild pitch brought him in for the O’s second run of the day, and a brilliant, hard-fought, walkoff win.
If you’d watched the rest of the game, this was a crazy reversal of fortunes. I don’t know what Eduardo Rodriguez has against his former team, but he entered today’s matchup 13-5 with a 2.94 ERA against them in 23 career starts, and after Sunday, that ERA will be even lower.
Today E-Rod was not just good, he was brilliant. Ironically, Austin Hays had led off O’s hitters with a 111-mph rocket off the bat (right at shortstop Zach McKinstry), because after that, the Orioles could make no real hard contact off E-Rod of any kind. The Detroit lefty’s breaking stuff was dominant. The Rodriguez cutter had a 43% whiff rate, the changeup 45%. Even Adley whiffed twice, for cryin’ out loud!
Ultimately, the difference maker in this game may have been Ryan Mountcastle gutting out an eight-pitch at-bat ending in a single. That effort convinced Tigers manager A.J. Hinch to lift the spellcaster E-Rod from the game and gave the Orioles a chance to try their luck against a Detroit bullpen trio of Chasen Shreve, Alex Lange, and Mason Englert, who looked, TBH, less scary!
Against Shreve, the Birds broke through in the eighth in gutsy fashion. With one out, Jorge Mateo dropped a broken-bat squibber and blazed down the line, showing no hip discomfort whatever. He was just the Orioles’ second baserunner of the game. Pulling the strings, Brandon Hyde sent Anthony Santander in to pinch hit for Ryan McKenna. Hyde pulled them well: batting from the right side, Santander drove a ball down the line into the left-field corner. Motoring around second, Mateo got the green light from third-base coach Tony Mansolino, and chugged home just ahead of the throw. This was a tie game!
In the tenth inning, a combination of the Manfred Man, a perfect Terrin Vavra bunt, Adam Frazier’s speed and good reads, and a Mason Englert wild pitch allowed the Birds to snatch a win in a game in which they had just three hits and one walk. Gutsy.
Now, what about the Rodriguez you’re actually here to read about? Detroit may not be the biggest, baddest offense the Orioles’ will face this year, but there’s plenty of good to take away from this strong performance. Thus far in his short MLB career, Grayson Rodriguez has interspersed the sort of gifts you just can’t teach with things worthy of a facepalm. For instance: he struck out the side in the first, then loaded the bases in both the second and third innings. His outing was kept scoreless only thanks to a combination of: (1) Mt. Walltimore (turning Zach McKinstry’s 377-foot bomb into a double), (2) two former Orioles hitting badly, Tyler Nevin with a GIDP and Jonathan Schoop with a bases-loaded flyout, and (3) a nice two-out sliding catch by Ryan McKenna, doing what he’s in there to do.
Today G-Rod was frequently missing high in the zone, and sometimes it was tough to watch. When his command struggles, batters are put on notice of what’s coming next—a fastball in the zone—and major league hitters have no trouble squaring up even 97, if they know it’s on the way.
But—bottom line—for the young right hander, commanding his emotions might be equally important as commanding his stuff, and several times today, Rodriguez did what he needed to do to get himself out of trouble. The results speak for themselves: 5 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 3 BB, 6 K. Definite steps toward progress.
Also it was mostly good news from the bullpen. Even with the suddenly unhittable Yennier Cano unavailable today, the ‘pen kept a 0-0 game within reach for an offense that could do nothing against the starter.
Whom Brandon Hyde chooses to pitch in a scoreless game tells you a lot about the names on his short list, so put starter-turned-reliever Mike Baumann high up there, along with Bryan Baker. Baumann, especially, looked dominant in his perfect sixth. And while Cionel Pérez and Austin Voth were wobbly, they weren’t bad. Keegan Akin was particularly Houdini-like, getting the order from the dugout to load the bases with IBBs and still not allowing a run in the tenth. For Orioles pitching, this was another excellent, if not perfect effort.
The Birds are now 14-7, in sole possession of second place in the AL East, and they have won five of their last seven series, including six games in a row. Are people taking the Orioles seriously yet? BaseballReference gives them a 46.2% chance of making the playoffs, Fangraphs 25%.
Go ahead, then. Keep slumbering on these Birds.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for April 23rd?
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Grayson Rodriguez (5 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 3 BB, 6 K)
Ryan Mountcastle (1-for-4, broke up perfecto to drive K-Rod from the game in the seventh)
Jorge Mateo (1-for-3, manufactured tying run with bunt and scored from first, at bat for game-winning WP)
Keegan Akin (ordered to intentionally walk two batters and still kept Detroit scoreless in 10th)