That’s the question at the forefront for the Orioles’ fan base, which has seen the crown jewel of the rebuild arrive and is counting down the days to see Rutschman joined by more.
As executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias sees it, there remains a slate of boxes he needs to see Rodriguez — the top pitching prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline — check off before notions of a callup become more serious. Central is his innings workload — wanting to see him pitch without restrictions for a comfortable amount of time with Triple-A Norfolk before doing so at the Major League level.
That follows the same vein the club employed in the timing of calling up Rutschman.
“Equally, in fact, if not more important, is when he comes up here, we want him to be able to go and pitch and help the team and not handcuff the team,” Elias said prior to the Orioles’ series finale against the Rays at Camden Yards on Sunday. “We’ve got to be super careful with the workload for this kid just because of who he is. But [also], the calendar that we’ve had to work around since he’s been drafted [with the COVID-canceled season].”
The Orioles are approaching Rodriguez’s road map this year for 2022 itself as much as they are for ’23. He’s still not at a full buildup, Elias said, a mark hinging more on pitches than innings.
Rodriguez has maxed out at 87 pitches and 5 1/3 innings (three times) — both of which he accomplished in his last outing with Rutschman on Tuesday, striking out 11. That continued a rebound from a couple of hiccups he endured.
“We might want to cut these guys loose next year,” Elias said, No. 5 prospect DL Hall also among that group. “We’ve got a platform for a lot of workload in 2023. We’re balancing all that and trying to be as smart as we can about the schedule so that we’re not having to do unnatural pull-backs on the reins on these guys in August or September.
“I think his last outing was kind of vintage Grayson, which was exciting,” Elias added. “I’m watching each one of his starts very carefully, and I know we are as an organization.”
Rodriguez was among a bevy of topics Elias touched on in his first post-Rutschman press conference, also his first time addressing the media in just less than a month:
On the timing of Rutschman’s promotion
The last bar Rutschman needed to clear was the physicality of catching a week’s workload, Elias said. Once he accomplished that with Norfolk last week, the timing of a Saturday night promotion made sense.
All that came after hopes that Rutschman would have been healthy enough to break camp with the team had it not been for his right triceps strain. Now he gets a quick tour of the American League East.
“He will get the experience of going to play in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, which is cool for him because that’s life in the AL East,” Elias said, “and then come back for a nice homestand around Memorial Day. I think the timing worked out as well as it could have given that we were constrained by his injury.”
Hall is through three outings at Triple-A, allowing seven runs across 9 2/3 innings (6.52 ERA) with 14 strikeouts against seven walks. Though he’s pitching perhaps ahead of where the O’s expected him to be, Hall will need to show consistent health on top of perhaps an easier time working tough Triple-A lineups with his 98-plus mph stuff — and especially limiting the walks.
“His stuff is unbelievable. He’s been healthy. He looks great. He’s throwing harder than ever, but he’s doing it with ease and efficiency,” Elias said. “ … I think that he’s ahead of sort of schedule and expectations in terms of where he came into the year. This is all good stuff, healthy stuff that we’re seeing from him.”
On the Wall
The Orioles’ decision to move the left-field wall back was executed with the goal of “neutrality.” Through the first three homestands, it has played far more favorably toward pitchers. The summer months may level that a smidge. No matter how it plays out, there’s no second-guessing the decision, now with real-world data at play.
“We made the move for a reason, and that reason is Orioles pitchers,” Elias said. “I think it’s a great thing for our pitching staff. … Our inability as a franchise for 30 years to kind of successfully sign pitchers on one-year deals, that is a huge problem. It’s very hard to win that way. … If our Oriole pitchers feel a boost from it, then I think that’s why we did it.”
On the outlook
Whenever Rodriguez and others do join Rutschman, it will continue a good vibe that’s already simmering, teased exceptionally on Saturday.
“We’ve got blue skies ahead of us. We’ve got a No. 1 farm system. We’ve got a young, talented Major League team. We have payroll flexibility. … There’s going to be more and more people coming into the ballpark,” Elias said. “… There’s a lot to look forward to. I’m very excited. I feel like the most difficult, arduous part of the work that we’ve had to do is kind of behind us.”