Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles’ top pitching prospect, has been diagnosed with a lat muscle strain, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias announced Thursday after Rodriguez underwent an MRI in Baltimore.
The exact severity of the strain has not yet been determined, nor has any timeline for Rodriguez’s recovery. The only certainty at this stage is that Rodriguez will miss time, a major hindrance as the 22-year-old geared toward an impending promotion to the major leagues.
“Safe to say he’ll miss some time, and probably a decent amount of time at a minimum,” Elias said. “Certainly a very disappointing development in terms of the 2022 calendar and our hopes and his, but it’s something that we’ll ultimately get through.”
Rodriguez left his start Wednesday night for Triple-A Norfolk after 5 2/3 innings with what the right-hander initially said felt like a back cramp, an industry source with direct knowledge of the situation told The Baltimore Sun. An additional source said Rodriguez felt he was dehydrated.
The Orioles announced after the game that Rodriguez experienced “right lat discomfort,” and the team flew Rodriguez to Baltimore on Thursday morning for additional testing. The MRI revealed the lat strain, although a source close to Rodriguez said doctors told him “it’s not as serious as it looks.”
The typical timeframe for pitchers to recover from a lat muscle strain is a month. Elias wasn’t in a position to estimate a timeframe from Rodriguez, who will likely meet with other doctors over the next few days to receive additional opinions.
Whether it rules Rodriguez out for the 2022 season remains to be seen. Elias said a trip to the team’s spring training complex in Sarasota, Florida, for rehab is likely.
“It’s not something that I think at this time looks particularly worrisome from a long-term standpoint,” Elias said. “We’ve had guys pull muscles all the time. But it’s an unfortunate timing development for both him and the Orioles.”
Rodriguez cruised through the first 5 2/3 innings for the Tides, but he threw what appeared to be a fastball that registered on the stadium radar gun at 89 mph, a significant drop from his usual velocity. Rodriguez’s fastball generally hovers in the mid-90s and can leap to 97 mph.
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The pitch drew a mound visit from a trainer, pitching coach Justin Ramsey and manager Buck Britton. After a long discussion, Rodriguez was removed from the game. He had allowed two hits and no runs with four strikeouts to that point, continuing a superb stretch of games.
“A 22-year-old at the front end of his career I think kind of puts any kind of calculus toward the longest-term considerations rather than rushing him back,” Elias said regarding a return to the mound.
Rodriguez, ranked the No. 3 overall prospect in the sport by Baseball America, earned the International League Pitcher of the Week award Monday for his standout start last week, when he struck out 10 batters and gave up two hits across seven scoreless innings, throwing a season-high 88 pitches.
A major league debut for Rodriguez appeared to be on the horizon before Wednesday’s exit. He had spent the previous month at an 85-pitch limit, but that limit was raised to 95 pitches before his start last week. He didn’t reach it because of how efficient his outing was, but it was another sign that his buildup was going smoothly.
Rodriguez was expected to reach 100 pitches in the minor leagues before receiving a promotion. He finished at 63 on Wednesday before the injury. Elias has preached the need for a slow approach, saying earlier this year that the Orioles need “to be super careful with the workload for this kid, just because of who he is.”
A potential call-up to the Orioles could’ve occurred as early as next week. Instead, Rodriguez will need to build himself back up, delaying his debut in the majors.
“The timing of this stinks,” Elias said. “We were watching every start of his very carefully and carefully building him toward readiness, from a workload standpoint to an everything-you-can-think-of standpoint to what’s going to be a very long and fruitful pitching career. Obviously, this is going to be a delay.”