For the second straight start, Grayson Rodriguez looked like a major league-caliber starter the first time through the order before struggling the second time around.
Rodriguez, the Orioles’ top prospect and starting rotation candidate, allowed a two-run homer in the third inning and then struck out in the fourth in a Grapefruit League game against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday. The start was similar to his previous outing, also against Boston, where the 23-year-old retired nine of the first 10 batters with six strikeouts before allowing five straight to reach base.
“Obviously, I don’t enjoy it,” Rodriguez said of the tough outings. “But that was the key. It’s all a learning experience, and for that to happen in spring training is better than the regular season.”
In the fourth inning, Rodriguez walked the leadoff batter and then got a groundout that should have been a double play. But Rodriguez threw a short throw to the sack that shortstop Jorge Mateo couldn’t corral. Rodriguez induced a double play on the next batter, but his error proved costly. He threw a wild pitch to allow a run, issued his second walk of the frame and allowed an RBI double before being pulled.
“The first two innings it was very clear,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I saw overwhelming things.”
“I think the fourth inning got a little tired,” Hyde added. “You saw the shift go to blocking back and some misses there. It looked like it was fatigue in the fourth inning.”
Rodriguez finished the day allowing six hits and five runs (two earned) in 3 2/3 innings with two walks and three strikeouts. Over his last two starts, Rodriguez has given up 10 hits and nine runs (six earned) over 6 2/3 innings.
“To me, he’s had so many positives in his first couple innings, and then to have that rough inning probably isn’t a bad thing for him,” said James McCann, who caught Rodriguez on Saturday. “He can look back on the positives and understand what he did well and then take from the rough innings what he needs to be able to adjust and not let that happen in a game that counts.”
Rodriguez struggled most Saturday with the top three hitters in Boston’s lineup — starters Christian Arroyo, Rafael Devers and Adam Duvall.
“We kind of had a plan, how to read their swings the first time,” Rodriguez said. “I missed some pitches, though, and guys in the major leagues hit them. This is just kind of a result of that.”
Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has repeatedly said he wants Rodriguez to break camp in the rotation. Hyde reiterated that sentiment Saturday morning, saying the club is giving him “every chance” to be in the opening day rotation.
“I’m not worried,” Hyde said of whether Rodriguez feels pressure to make the team. “I think it’s very normal for a young player to feel that way, but he’s got great stuff. He will be a very good starter in this league for a long time. I just want to see him relax and do well these last few starts.”
McCann said it’s “above my pay grade” to determine whether the 6-foot-5 righty should open the season in the big leagues.
“But from the look of things,” he said, “no doubt he is ready.”
Also in the Orioles’ 9-6 loss, first baseman Ryan O’Hearn returned from missing a week with a knee injury and went 0-2. Pitcher Austin Voth, one of nine pitchers left vying for a spot in the Orioles’ Opening Day rotation, worked the final three innings, allowing five hits and four runs (one earned) with no walks and six strikeouts.
Colton Cowser, the organization’s top prospect, followed his 476-foot home run on Friday with an RBI single and a walk in his two plate appearances off the bench. Heston Kjerstad kept his camp hot with an RBI double.
One of the many competitions in camp is for backfield spots behind starters Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander.
Kyle Stowers and Ryan McKenna may have an inside track, with the former posting a .724 OPS in 34 games last year and the latter serving as a defensive backup.
But Daz Cameron made his case for one of those spots this week with the bat, flashing the power that once had him considered for the No. 1 in the 2015 draft. The 26-year-old opened the week with an RBI double against the Detroit Tigers on Monday and capped it off with a solo home run against the Minnesota Twins on Friday. His homer — hit 101.7 mph and 386 feet — was sandwiched between Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser’s back-to-back home run blasts.
“My swing is flourishing, and as time goes on, my swing will continue to take care of itself,” Cameron said. “Nice to see some early results.”
However, perhaps his most impressive performance came Thursday in one of the Orioles’ backfields. Cameron was one of several batters DL Hall faced in the pitching prospect mock game and was the only one who hit the ball hard. In his three homers against Hall, Cameron hit a ground ball in the hole, a fly ball over the left field fence and a frozen rope to right-center field.
“Daz just keeps getting better as he gets more at-bats,” Hyde said. “He’s taking better swings. He’s been swinging the bat well the last week or so.”
Cameron, who was drafted 37th overall in 2015 by Houston when Elias was with the Astros, has appeared in 73 games with nine stolen bases and a .201 batting average with the Tigers over the past three seasons.
“The ability to run, be athletic and cover three spots in the field will be big,” Hyde said.
Bautista is approaching full power
Closer Félix Bautista hit a significant milestone Friday — one that really only applies to him and about a dozen other big league pitchers.
In his second outing this spring, Bautista hit 100 mph on the penultimate pitch of his inning. His 100.1 mph fastball got past Twins shortstop Matt Wallner, and then he slammed on the brakes with an 89.8 mph splitter for the strikeout.
“I feel like I’m starting to get back into the groove, little by little,” Bautista said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “I feel like I’m slowly but surely working my way up to the same level as I was during the season.”
“I feel very confident about how things went,” he added.
Hyde was encouraged both by the way Bautista looked in the second half of the spring and how his body responded. Bautista had a slow start to training camp after ending last season with a sprained left knee and went through a shoulder-strengthening program this winter.
“He loves where he is right now,” Hyde said.
Hyde said Bautista would “ideally” pitch in three or four more games before spring training ends on March 27.
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