First Impressions: Eduardo Rodriguez
Someone must have told Rodriguez when he was younger that first impressions matter. This is great advice because the first time you meet or spend time around someone ultimately shapes your perception of them more than you think it would. The first time I saw Rodriguez was on August 26th 2013 when truth be told I was at the game to see the other starter—Noah Syndergaard. Rodriguez who was pitching for AA Bowie at the time stole the show going 8.0 IP allowing just two hits and zero runs while striking out five batters, Syndergaard was lit up for 9 earned over 3.0 IP. It’s safe to say that start got my attention and I was even more impressed with his victory over Texas last night than I have ever been while watching him.
In the day leading up to the start I was asked by a few twitter followers whether or not this kid would be worth the waiver add and if he was a good start vs Texas. I was cautiously optimistic recommending him with the caveat that Texas had been quite good vs lefties and Arlington is not the easiest place to make a debut. I did think that the advantage still lie with Rodriguez who had the benefit of never having faced any of the Ranger’s hitters before which would keep them guessing. He delivered 7.2 IP giving up just three hits and two walks while punching out 7 earning the first win of his career.
From the first pitch forward Rodriguez looked in control both working quickly and pounding the zone. It was clear from the radar gun that he had his adrenaline pumping since his four-seam fastball velocity sat at about 96 MPH in the first inning topping out at 98. He was aggressive from the get go attacking hitters and often finding a way to get ahead in the count. Though he relied heavily on his fastball in the early going he was not shy at all to mix in his changeup and slider when he needed to keep a batter off balance. He used this slider to punch out Prince Fielder in his first at-bat and was able to get Adrian Beltre on just one pitch.
It became obvious as the game went on that one of the greatest assets that Rodriguez has is his fastball command. In his first strikeout of Mitch Moreland, Rodriguez pounded him with fastballs low in the zone before elevating with a high fastball to sit him down. Later in the game in after seeing the patient Shin-Soo Coo before he displayed his ability to move his fastball around the zone east and west to get Choo to fly out to center field. The ability to place his fastball wherever he wants and to understand the value of changing the batters perception by moving around the zone shows a very advanced awareness of how to pitch that most 22-year-old pitchers do not have.
When contact was made last night it was manifested in 55.6% ground balls and a fair number of very softly hit fly balls. Rodriguez four-seam fastball which was down as low as 91-92 in the middle innings can have so much natural sink on it that while watching him I mistook it for a two-seam fastball on more than one occasion. It was hard for me at times to differentiate between his changeup (87.7 MPH) and slider (87.2) because not only do they come in at roughly the same speed but his slider has more drop than it does side run. If the viewer has trouble differentiating these pitches from his couch I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the hitter.
Overall I thought his delivery was very repeatable and as the announcers pointed out during the Texas broadcast he does a very good job of hiding the ball until he is ready to deliver his pitch. This combination of two similarly hard breaking and off-speed offerings and the ability to move the fastball around the zone make his ability to hide the ball all the more dangerous to the hitter. Rodriguez also showed no fear throwing both his slider and changeup to both lefties and righties and was frequently attacking batters low and inside. He delivers all of his pitches from the third base side of the rubber making his angle of delivery even more deceptive.
Rodriguez made few mistakes last night with his first walk coming in the 5th inning vs Elvis Andrus before issuing a four-pitch walk to Robinson Chirinos in the 8th. He had two balls all night that were hit hard, the 2nd inning double by Hamilton and the 8th inning single by Delino DeShields on pitch 104 of the night. At the end of the night he handled the meat of the Texas batting order as easily the third time through the order as he did during the first time. He showed more off-speed and breaking offering the second time through and went back the fastball the third time through the order.
|Times Through The Order||Fourseam||Slider||Change|
This was supposed to be a spot start for Rodriguez but we all know what this really was, an audition. Boston’s rotation needs help in a big way and after what I saw last night there is no way they can justify sending him down. The most likely candidate to be bumped is the struggling Joe Kelly whose stuff could play very nicely out of the pen. While we can’t rely on Rodriguez to be quite this good, especially as the league sees him more, he is a true three pitch pitcher who should more than hold his own. Long term he has the potential to develop into a number two starter as he strives to do the best impression of his Venezuelan hero Johan Santana.
The Andrew Miller for Rodriguez trade from last year is looking like a steal and for those of you in dynasty leagues or in redraft leagues in need of a starter you should make a strong play to pick him up. I grabbed him in my redraft league for 24 dollars on a standard FAAB budget but he has already been owned for years in my dynasty league. I would expect an ERA under 4.00 with an above average WHIP for the rest of the season. If this move works out well for Boston this may be all they need to make some headway in that bunched up AL East and separate from the pack.