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Orioles demote top prospect Grayson Rodriguez back down to Triple-A

The righty, who entered the year as the top pitching prospect in baseball, gave up eight runs on Friday night to raise his season-long ERA to 7.35.

Grayson Rodriguez of the Baltimore Orioles pitches in the first inning during the game between the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday, May 26, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Grayson Rodriguez still may be the future of the Baltimore Orioles’ rotation, but with the team in a dogfight with the Tampa Bay Rays atop the AL East, the team has decided that it can’t afford to wait for that future to arrive. Baltimore demoted its top pitching prospect on Saturday morning, a day after Rodriguez was shelled by the Texas Rangers to the tune of nine runs (eight earned) on six hits and three walks in just 3.1 innings.

That outing raised the righty’s season-long ERA all the way to 7.35, with an ugly 1.72 WHIP. Rodriguez has shown flashes of the electric stuff that made him the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball, with 56 strikeouts in his 45.1 innings of work. But his command was far too erratic, particularly with his fastball that he rode all the way through the Minors, and Major League hitters were doing lots of damage on balls left over the heart of the plate. (He ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the league in hard-hit rate, barrel rate and expected slugging percentage.)

It’s still far too early to push the panic button on Rodriguez’s long-term outlook, but it’s understandable that the O’s would want to let him work out the kinks in Triple-A while they’re in the middle of a tight divisional race. Starting pitching has been just about the only bugaboo for Baltimore so far this year, with a deep lineup and arguably the best bullpen in baseball helping them to a 33-18 record entering play on Saturday.

But the team’s decision to forgo pursuing starters over the offseason has come back to bite it a bit, as Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin have proven tough to trust on a start-after-start basis. Erstwhile ace John Means will be making his return from Tommy John surgery at some point this summer, but who knows what he’ll look like after more than a year away. Keegan Akin was recalled in a corresponding move, and while he’s started for the O’s in the past, he’s been most effective as a reliever. Top prospect DL Hall is another name to watch, but the lefty has struggled to a 5.03 ERA in Triple-A so far this year.