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Top Orioles pitching prospect may be lost for season because of injury

ANDY KOSTKA
Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Grayson Rodriguez

Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez’s season could be over after he was diagnosed with a Grade 2 lat muscle strain, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias announced Sunday.

Elias said there’s a chance Rodriguez returns to the mound in September, but he put an emphasis on Rodriguez breaking spring training camp as part of Baltimore’s 2023 rotation.

It’s a major blow for the Orioles and Rodriguez, the top-ranked pitching prospect and Major League Baseball’s No. 3 overall prospect, according to Baseball America. Rodriguez was narrowing in on a major league debut before suffering the lat strain Wednesday during what could’ve been his final start with Triple-A Norfolk.

Now Rodriguez will be out a minimum of several weeks, Elias said, with a “bullseye” target on September for a potential return. It’s a speedbump in the Orioles’ rebuild, too, pushing back the estimated arrival for an electric arm.

“This is an injury we have a very, very high degree of confidence is going to heal, and he is gonna be back to himself in no time and at the very least put himself in position to join our rotation right out of spring training,” Elias said. “We’re looking forward to getting him back to work. He’s a tough kid and a very, very hard worker, so I expect he’s going to do really well.”

Rodriguez will report to the Orioles’ facility in Sarasota, Florida, at some point in the next week to begin the rehab process, Elias said. Rodriguez saw another doctor for a second opinion on his lat strain, but Baltimore didn’t have him undergo any additional MRIs. There’s no issue with Rodriguez’s arm or shoulder, Elias said, which is a relief.

As ever, though, Elias preached a slow approach to Rodriguez’s return. There’s a risk of re-injury associated with muscle strains, and pitching through an issue could lead to overexertion of another part of the body — potentially exacerbating issues.

“We’ll do our best to avoid [that] by being as careful as possible,” Elias said. “If you come back too quick, it can definitely reoccur. But if you handle this properly and carefully, the odds are greatly reduced.”

Rodriguez was near full buildup in Triple-A with a major league debut expected soon when the injury occurred. He threw a fastball that registered at 89 mph on the stadium radar gun, which prompted a lengthy mound visit and his early withdrawal after 63 pitches.

The early feel from Rodriguez was that he experienced a cramp, according to two sources close to Rodriguez. There wasn’t much pain — and Elias said there still isn’t. But a trip to Baltimore on Thursday led to further testing, which showed the lat strain.

Rodriguez cruised through Norfolk’s opposition last month, earning the International League’s Pitcher of the Month award. Across his last 34 1/3 innings, Rodriguez struck out 47 batters and walked three, allowing just 16 hits and three runs. It was the kind of dominance that signified a promotion was coming soon.

Instead, as Baltimore tried to get Rodriguez closer to 100 pitches before his call-up, the injury struck. Now, Elias said left-hander DL Hall is the likeliest top prospect to near a debut, although Hall still needs to prove he can work “into the fourth, fifth and beyond, and he knows that. He’s doing that,” Elias said.

There’s still a sour taste regarding the timing of Rodriguez’s injury. He might’ve been at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Tuesday. Instead, he might not feature until 2023.

“The timing of this really stinks, is all I can say,” Elias said. “He was basically at the point of checking every box you can think of in terms of his minor league work. He’s shown that if he’s healthy and himself, we want him to be in a position to help this team next year out of spring training, and assuming that’s the case, I think he will be.”