Climbing through the Orioles’ minor league system, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall competed whenever they pitched, even if they shared an organization and even if they played for different affiliates.
However Baltimore’s top pitching prospects could, they sought to one-up each other. In a given week, they would pursue the most innings, the highest strikeout totals, the best outing. On Saturday, the first day the dynamic young pitchers shared in the majors, those competitions all went to Rodriguez.
After Hall struck out seven over three innings of two-run relief in the first game of Baltimore’s doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, Rodriguez delivered five scoreless frames with nine strikeouts as the Orioles’ starter in the nightcap, a 6-4 victory that earned him his first major league win.
Zach McKinstry opened Rodriguez’s night with a double, only to erase himself from the bases trying to advance to third on a ground ball to the left side, with shortstop Jorge Mateo beating him in a race to the bag. That fielder’s choice began a run in which Rodriguez retired 14 straight Tigers, punctuating that streak by striking out seven of eight batters. Baltimore’s offense, meanwhile, supplied him a four-run lead on a collection of second-inning singles.
Miguel Cabrera spoiled Rodriguez’s run with a two-out single in the fifth, and Matt Vierling followed with a walk, but on his 91st pitch, Rodriguez recorded his ninth strikeout. Six of them came on his changeup, his signature offspeed offering that has come on of late. Eight of Detroit’s 13 swings against it missed, and with 13 whiffs total, he’s responsible for half of the Orioles’ eight highest whiff totals this year. Since allowing four runs in the first inning April 16 against the Chicago White Sox, Rodriguez has pitched 14 scoreless innings, dropping his ERA from 9.58 to 4.07 in that span.
The Orioles (18-9) have likewise taken off, with that game in Chicago sparking a seven-game winning streak. With Saturday’s split doubleheader, they have won 10 of 12 games. The only teams in franchise history with more wins through 27 games are the 1969 American League pennant winners, the 1970 World Series champions and the 1997 wire-to-wire team.
Throughout the Orioles’ rebuild, Rodriguez and Hall — the organization’s first-round draft picks in 2018 and 2017, respectively — were their top two pitching prospects. Both entered spring training as candidates to make Baltimore’s rotation, but neither cracked the initial five-man group. Late in the offseason, Hall suffered lower back discomfort that kept him from being stretched out enough to fully compete. Having gotten past the build-up stage, Hall was brought to Detroit as the 27th man for the doubleheader, a one-day stint in which he provided length out of the Orioles’ bullpen and spared manager Brandon Hyde from using any other relievers in the opening game.
They would be needed behind Rodriguez, who the Orioles deemed their sixth-best starter at the end of spring training and optioned to Triple-A before Kyle Bradish’s foot injury created an opening and Cole Irvin’s struggles created a more permanent spot. After Rodriguez’s five innings, Hyde needed six relievers to finish off the victory. Ryan McKenna increased the Orioles’ lead to six with a two-run home run in the top of the sixth, and called upon for the bottom half, Keegan Akin issued a leadoff walk and single before an error by Mateo gave Detroit its first run. Former Oriole Tyler Nevin then delivered a pinch-hit three-run home run off Mike Baumann.
The bullpen caged the Tigers (10-16) from there. Bryan Baker and Danny Coulombe combined for a scoreless seventh, and Yennier Cano continued his dominant run with a perfect eighth; opposing batters are 0-for-28 with a hit-by-pitch against the sinkerballer. Félix Bautista pitched a clean ninth to earn his seventh save and secure Rodriguez’s first win. It was expected to come sometime last season, but a right lat muscle strain cost Rodriguez three months and prevented a major league debut. Instead, Hall beat him to Baltimore with his late-season arrival. But Rodriguez earned Saturday’s bragging rights.
This story will be updated.
Orioles at Tigers
Sunday, 1:40 p.m.
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