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Service Time Aside, Grayson Rodriguez Just Didn’t Earn it

Grayson Rodriguez
Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports
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Yesterday was an odd day for Baltimore sports fans. We first had the Lamar Jackson trade request news and then Orioles fans received a gut punch when it was announced that top pitching prospect, Grayson Rodriguez would be sent to AAA Norfolk to begin the season. It has been assumed since early in the offseason, in large part because Mike Elias has told us he would be on the opening day roster, that the long anticipated debut would happen in early April and then yesterday, that was taken away.

So, how did we get here and is this the correct decision?

The overall majority of twitter O’s fans are screaming service time manipulation – and maybe that’s true. Despite what Elias said yesterday, I think it would be naïve to think that may not have something to do with it. After all, whether you like the system or not, the bottom line is a 7th year of GRod is more valuable than three weeks of him in the 2023 season. That is just a fact. Now, we can complain about it and wonder if this is best for the team trying to win in 2023 but it is a big factor in this.

Now, with that being said, let’s look at some of the other factors that could be at play here. First and foremost, we look at his spring training performance. Those stats don’t really mean anything but what does matter is how someone looks, especially pitchers. Grayson walked seven guys in 15 innings, which is unusual for him. While he did strike out 19 guys (the stuff has been there according to all reports), he also gave up 17 hits, three homers and allowed 12 earned runs. He also committed an error that led to some unearned runs.  On top of that, he couldn’t make it through four innings. It took a lot of pitches and he had at least one really bad inning per start. Yesterday, Elias said he didn’t expect the command issues to be there, thus why he never thought about sending him down.

The question is, can you fix those command issues in the majors? I think so and I think sometimes we lose sight of the fact that these guys don’t need to be perfect to come up here and that development can occur at the MLB level. But, it’s also fair to wonder where his mind is, where his confidence level is, why is the command off and, did he come to Sarasota with the proper mindset.  Elias was quoted as saying, “we hoped he would show up a better version of himself.”

What did that mean? Did it mean, we just hoped he would be the pre-injury GRod, or did he believe his own hype and come in without the proper focus and just assumed he would make the team? This is some behind the scenes stuff that we aren’t privy to and that could be part of this as well.

Perhaps this is an “attitude check”?

And when it comes to the development in the majors, would he have gotten the proper time to fix things and be in a good rhythm? By my count, the Orioles need a 5th starter just four times in April. The good news with that would be that it would be easy to keep his innings down. The downside to that is that he only pitches four times in about 35 days. The flip side to that is that he can get six or seven starts in AAA. Now, I doubt they have him make that many starts because of the innings limit, but the point is that he can be on a more regular schedule and get himself into a better rhythm. There is something to be said about that.

Speaking of those innings, Rodriguez probably has about 140 innings in him this year. Some have said, why have some of those innings be in the minors? I agree but again, there is more to it than that. If he gets five or six starts in AAA, I am guessing he throws 20-30 innings in those starts. That leaves him with 25-ish MLB starts and 110-120 or so innings.

The other issue I saw from people were saying, if we are looking at stats, what about Tyler Wells, who is the new 5th starter? His ERA approached 6 in spring training. Why doesn’t that matter? Well, this is where those stats can be blown out of proportion in that Wells has established himself, in the majors, as a good reliever and a competent starting pitcher. Is he as good as GRod? No. Is he more equipped to give the O’s three or four better starts in the month of April? Yes, I think that is certainly possible if there are other issues at play with Rodriguez.

Let’s remember something about Rodriguez. He hasn’t been good since the end of May last year. That is 10 months ago. Yes, he obviously missed a lot of time with the lat injury but he came back and wasn’t himself. Unfortunately, that has carried over into this spring. We saw him drop in some prospect rankings this offseason and many of us laughed at the reasons given (since many of them seemed to be about how he looked post injury in a small sample size), which were largely talking about his command, especially of his secondary pitches. Is that not what we saw this spring as well? So maybe there is something mechanical he got into doing as a result of the lat injury last year and that needs to be worked out?

Again, we aren’t privy to these things but it’s yet another possible issue the team sees that they feel is better to be worked out in AAA vs the majors.

I get why this isn’t a popular decision. I get why people want to see him and I get that people are tired of the Orioles “acting cheap.” That being said, that doesn’t mean this is the wrong decision and it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing what is best for the team.

During Spring Training 2022, Seattle Mariners top pitching prospect George Kirby struggled. He struck out 12 in seven IP but he had a 7.04 ERA, which is ironically the exact ERA Rodriguez had in 15.2 innings this year. Kirby went to AA, made five starts, one start in AAA and then was brought up the majors, where he had 130 IP and pitched to a sub 3.5 ERA and had a 3 WAR. So, it’s not the end of the world that Rodriguez got sent down and it’s not like he can’t make a major impact on the team in 2023 if he doesn’t pitch here in the month of April.

End of the day, while I think it is fair to say that this is service time manipulation, I think we have to remember that there is a lot of info we know and likely a lot that we don’t know that justifies this decision, even if it is a decision that disappointed us all.

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