“You think he’s amped up tonight?” asked the booth’s Geoff Arnold after Grayson Rodriguez’s first pitch of the night zoomed by at 99 mph, down around the knees of Tampa Bay’s Yandy Díaz. Facing the best team in the American League, could a super-amped Grayson Rodriguez keep his stuff and a masterfully talented opposing lineup under control?
Yes, he could. On Tuesday night, against the 29-8 Tampa Bay Rays, Rodriguez turned in his best start yet, surrendering two runs on seven hits over five and two-thirds innings. True, back in April, Rodriguez threw a pair of five-inning shutouts against Detroit, but both stuff-wise and in context, this was the bigger deal.
Against the AL’s No. 1 offense—well, you can’t just heave fastballs at the Rays. And indeed, Rodriguez’s 31% fastball usage was his lowest of any start this year. That itself is an accomplishment considering that last week, G-Rod completely lost the feel for his offspeed pitches, suffering blow after blow at the hands of the Royals, one of the worst-hitting teams in MLB. Tonight, he commanded his stuff enough to keep the Rays at bay. (Surely there’s a joke there.)
It wasn’t always smooth sailing. The Rays can easily tag a fastball, and Wander Franco did just that in the first inning, clobbering 99 up in the zone to put the Rays up 1-0. Sometimes getting too fine with the offspeed stuff hurt Rodriguez, like in a tricky fifth inning when he allowed three hits on his changeup. The first, a solo home run to Taylor Walls, made it a 4-2 game, then two straight two-out singles put Randy Arozarena in the box with runners on first and third. Gulp. Well, what do you know: at that moment G-Rod summoned his best stuff of the night, slowing down Arozarena’s bat with a cutter, then blowing him away with 98 mph inside. Gorgeous.
HUGE strikeout from Grayson Rodriguez who was fired up. pic.twitter.com/WTnhKFgVgv— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) May 9, 2023
G-Rod didn’t need bailing out tonight, but it didn’t hurt that he also got some slick glovework from Orioles infielders. In the second inning, a ranging Jorge Mateo made a great play on a grounder just before Ryan Mountcastle kicked off a sweet 3-6-3 double play, the Orioles’ 38th of the season. Oh, make that 39, as Mateo kicked off a second DP in the third inning. Wait, make that 40, but we’ll get to that one later.
After five innings, G-Rod came back out, trying to do something he hadn’t done yet as a major leaguer: get an out in the sixth. He succeeded and did one better, in fact: Rodriguez speared a comebacker to nab the leadoff man and froze Luke Raley with a curveball. Hyde pulled his young starter after a two-out single, the rookie leaving to a Camden Yards standing ovation and a 4-2 lead.
Four runs is what Orioles hitters had staked their rookie starter against Tampa Bay’s Zach Eflin, and this was impressive for two reasons. One, Eflin entered this game with a 2.25 ERA, having allowed no more than three runs in a start this year. Two, Eflin had set down the first six Orioles in order by mixing up speeds (77 mph - curveball, 88 mph - cutter, 92 mph – sinker). It seemed like this might be one of those nights.
That is, until the third inning, when Eflin threw Gunnar Henderson two cutters in a row, and the youngster crushed the second one for a triple past a diving Manuel Margot in center field. Henderson scored the O’s first run on a Mateo groundout. Then, with two outs, Cedric Mullins doubled on a first-pitch curveball just ahead of Adley Rutschman, who pounced on a hanging cutter and deposited it 407 feet away way out on Eutaw Street.
EUTAW STREET, MEET ADLEY RUTSCHMAN!!! pic.twitter.com/gU0TVQDYzv— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) May 9, 2023
The Orioles tacked on a fourth run in the fourth inning after Mountcastle singled, Adam Frazier walked, and Hays singled to make it 4-1. It felt like there could have been more—then and for the rest of the game, several hitters putting together solid contact against Eflin, including Anthony Santander and Mounty. But the Birds couldn’t push more insurance across. You feared for this little lead, a little bit, especially after Mike Baumann issued a four-pitch walk to the leadoff man in the seventh inning.
But then out came the Orioles bullpen’s no-longer-so-secret weapon: Yennier Cano. It’s getting old to say, “Cano made the hitters look stupid.” But what are we gonna say at this point? Two .300+ hitters, Yandy Díaz and Wander Franco, were lions turned little lambs, neither leaving the infield. Randy Arozarena, one of the most dangerous hitters in the game, looked completely baffled. “You’ve been Cano’d,” said MASN treasure Ben McDonald, who’s still stupified by the Cano sinker every time he sees it. Cano did the same to Harold Ramírez. Pure nastiness.
From no-name to one of the best relievers in the game, Cano is a force right now. How dominant is he these days? This factoid certainly seems worth mentioning:
Only a two-out eighth-inning Luke Raley single could spoil the party, as manager Brandon Hyde decided it was Mountain Time.
Félix Bautista looked scary, alright, but mostly for Adley Rutschman behind the plate, who had the bad luck to have to haul this stuff in. Bautista isn’t looking quite himself these days. Tonight, the fastball was down to 96-97 mph, whereas last year it could easily hit 101. It’s still a scary pitch, but the real problem is, he’s not landing it: tonight he threw 29 pitches, 15 of which were balls.
Bautista walked a batter in the eighth, but struck out another to send the Rays back to the dugout. Out again for the ninth, he walked pinch-hitter Josh Lowe (note: the home ump stole a low strike from him, Pitch 7). Manuel Margot walked, too, and this wasn’t close. That brought out pitching coach Chris Holt for a mound visit/motivational speech … and it did just the trick. Bautista drew a roller to third for the Orioles’ 40th double play of the season, then got Franco flying out harmlessly to end the game.
What a huge win for the Orioles! They handed Zach Eflin his worst start of the year, held the AL’s best offense to 0-for-7 with RISP (0-for-their-last-12) and ended a three-game losing streak with a bang. What can’t these Birds do?
See you for the rubber match on Wednesday!
Who was the Most Birdland Player on Tuesday, May 9?
This poll is closed
Grayson Rodriguez, 5 2/3 innings, 2 R, 7 H, 4 SO, huge leaps in stuff/command
Adley Rutschman, 1-for-3, BB, 2-run HR, bravely caught a wild Baumann/Bautista
Yennier Cano, 1.2 innings, 1 H, 2 SO, made the Rays look foolish
Gunnar Henderson, 1-for-3, R, 3B, kicked off the scoring
Félix Bautista, four-out save, K