The Orioles came into Wednesday’s series finale against the Rangers with a chance to pick up their first sweep of the season. To help them do this, they turned to top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, freshly called up for the start to make his MLB debut. For Rodriguez, things could have gone worse, as he settled down after a rocky first inning to finish a respectable outing. For the O’s, things could have gone a lot better. They lost, 5-2.
Rodriguez’s first inning was tough enough that in the moment, you had to wonder if it would be the only thing worth talking about from this Orioles game. He was plainly having problems commanding pitches other than his fastball, command problems that led first to a walk issued to his first batter ever faced and then, once the batters could sit on the fastball, with 90+ mph rockets by the Texas hitters.
When the dust settled on this sequence, Rodriguez had thrown 30 pitches and the Orioles trailed, 2-0. Adolis García and Josh Jung each had RBI hits for the Rangers to mar the rookie’s debut inning. He finished the inning, at least, which was not something he had been able to do in some of his tough spring training outings.
On the MASN broadcast, Kevin Brown said that he’d talked to Kyle Stowers, a minor league teammate of Rodriguez’s, about what to expect. Stowers, according to Brown, replied that one impressive thing about Rodriguez was “his intensity after giving up an early run or two.” We were all Grayson Rodriguez’s dad, captured on the camera feed, wondering whether Rodriguez would be able to live up to Stowers and rebound in his debut:
Loving the broadcast's reaction shots of Grayson Rodriguez's dad pic.twitter.com/U2ppFOEDfp— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) April 5, 2023
He did it! He got better. It wasn’t a disaster of a debut for Rodriguez. He got enough of a handle on the changeup and slider command to get the Rangers back off balance. Rodriguez was able to assert himself against the bottom of the order in a 1-2-3 second inning, then pitched another three innings after that for good measure.
After that tough first inning, Rodriguez threw 53 pitches over the next four innings, allowing just two more hits. That’s fine work. The damage was done early, but it’s hard to complain too much about a final line of two runs on four hits and a walk across five innings.
By the way, while all of this Rodriguez debut stuff was playing out, Orioles batters were tasked with facing two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Texas’s $185 million man. deGrom got blasted in his first start of the year. He did not get blasted on Wednesday. For the first four innings, he did not allow any baserunners at all, with deGrom striking out eight O’s hitters.
The Orioles finally broke up the perfect game in the fifth inning. Ryan Mountcastle’s double ended the speculation before it got too stressful. For reasons currently not known to me, Mountcastle got to second base, looked back to the dugout, and did the sprinkler dance move. Perhaps the sprinkler has replaced the binoculars. Whatever the reason, it started a rally. Okay, fine, the sprinkler probably didn’t start a rally, but it did precede one and that’s good enough.
Mountcastle made it to third base as Gunnar Henderson grounded out for the first out of the inning. The man on third, less than two out situation is one where you would always like to see the Orioles score a run. Can a guy put the ball in play and make something happen? It’s no easy task, especially against a deGrom-level pitcher who, when all was said and done, struck out 11 Orioles batters. Crucially, none of these strikeouts came in the midst of this scoring sequence.
Terrin Vavra brought patience to the plate and walked on four pitches to make it men on the corners with one out. deGrom then induced what easily could have been an inning-ending double play ball from Austin Hays. Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien got a little ahead of himself in thinking about that double play before actually fielding the ball. He fumbled the pickup and could only throw to first, where Hays arrived safely. Mountcastle scored on the play, cutting the Orioles deficit to 2-1.
Up to bat next was Adam Frazier, looking to continue the scoring. Having ruminated on Frazier’s 2022 batting line too many times this offseason, I will never expect good things from him. He’s been proving me wrong often enough early in 2023, including in this situation: Frazier reached out and lashed an outside pitch by deGrom in the direction of left field, where the defense did not expect him to hit it. Vavra scored and tied the game.
Problem: Mountcastle’s and Frazier’s doubles were the only two Orioles hits in the contest.
With his offense having tied the game back up, Rodriguez added a scoreless fifth to ensure that at worst he would leave his debut with a no-decision. If the Orioles could score a run in the sixth then he might even have a chance at a win. Adley Rutschman led off the inning with a walk. That’s good! Then he was thrown out trying to steal second base at the same time Anthony Santander struck out swinging. That’s bad. “Don’t have the catcher get thrown out trying to steal a base” seems like an easy tactical flaw to avoid repeating.
All of this sets us up to talk about Austin Voth’s contribution to the game. He was summoned to hold the line, and failed. Voth got one out before allowing a single to García and then a two-run home run to Jung.
The home run came on a first pitch hanging curveball, right out over the plate. It was bad. That’s been the story of Voth’s 2023 season so far. He could not pitch a clean seventh inning either. Voth allowed a leadoff single then was lifted for Keegan Akin with one out and lefties Corey Seager and Nathaniel Lowe due up. Akin retired Seager, then allowed a double to Lowe, scoring a fifth Rangers run.
This was charged to Voth’s ERA, now a hefty 15.43. Voth had a surprising quality run with the Orioles last year. I hope that won’t make them sentimental if he continues to get results like this for too much longer. The fifth run did not matter, at any rate. The only Oriole who got on base after deGrom’s exit from the game was Jorge Mateo, who walked with one out in the eighth inning and got no farther than first base.
A sweep would have been fun, but it’s hard to be too upset with a road series win. Rodriguez acquitted himself well overall and this was always going to be a tough game to win if deGrom pitched anything like his career track record, which he did. After the game, manager Brandon Hyde told reporters “we haven’t gotten that far yet” when asked if Rodriguez would make the next start for this spot in the rotation. Obviously, he should.
Now it’s time for the Orioles to take their .500 record and head back to Baltimore for the home opener. That opener has been pre-emptively postponed from Thursday to Friday at the same 3:05 start time due to anticipated potential storms in the Baltimore area tomorrow afternoon. Nobody wants to show up for the opening festivities and have a halting game interrupted by rain. Dean Kremer and Clarke Schmidt are expected to be the starters for the first game.