On May 19th, Red Sox rookie lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez tossed 6.1 solid innings, surrendering only one run, scattering six hits and a walk, while striking out five. Out of five starts this year, four have been superb, and one was a complete disaster.
Five days before Rodriguez’s latest gem, he faced a tough Blue Jays lineup at Fenway. Going into the game, he boasted a 1.29 ERA, with a strikeout per frame. He was throwing gas, averaging 93.5 mph on his fastball, while touching 96. He was a well-regarded pitching prospect and pitching like one. For the first three innings, he continued to cruise along. Then the wheels fell off. Rodriguez gave up six runs in the top of the 4th, and was charged with three more in the 5th, leaving with the Sox down 8-0. It was a complete disaster of an outing, and Rodriguez walked off the mound looking like this:
Understandably disappointed. But as bad as the numbers looked at the end of the day, a closer look at what actually happened shows us a couple things. First off, Rodriguez had no feel for his slider. He basically didn’t have one. He also had pretty poor command of his changeup, so he was basically a one-and-a-half pitch pitcher. Secondly, he appears to have been the victim of a combination of rotten luck, and almost inexplicable bad fielding.
The whole thing started with this:
That is a weak pop-up by Josh Donaldson on a hard fastball in on the hands that falls in no man’s land. Well, I guess three man’s land, but not a one of the three could get to it. Rodriguez got ahead of Donaldson 0-1, then threw a good pitch that induced weak contact. Can’t blame him there.
Jose Bautista was next. Rodriguez got ahead with his fastball 0-1, then reached for his slider. And it wasn’t there. The first one was low and in the dirt, and the second was even worse:
Two sliders in the dirt, and Rodriguez is down 2-1. Rodriguez’ next pitch misses its spot, and Bautista bounces it down the third base line for a single. Not hard hit, but hard enough to get through. Runners at first and third.
Next up, Edwin Encarnacion. Rodriguez misses outside with a changeup. Encarnacion fouls off a fastball, then the next fastball misses up and away. 2-1. Another change misses low and away. 3-1. A called strike on a fastball outside makes it 3-2. Encarnacion lines the next fastball to center for a hard single. Rodriguez couldn’t locate the change and had to double up on his fastball, which Encarnacion seemed to be sitting on. Donaldson scores, and it’s 1-0 Jays.
That brought Chris Colabello up to the plate. Not a name that will strike fear into a lot of pitchers, but NESN did flash a nifty lower third that showed Colabello was hitting a cool .448 with runners in scoring position. This time, Rodriguez jumps ahead 0-2, but again can’t locate his slider. He goes back to his fastball, spots it nicely inside, and Colabello grounds it weakly to Pedroia at second. Easy double play. Then this:
Encarnacion’s slide (it appears he was sliding into center field) wipes out Xander Boegarts, and a DP becomes a FC. 2 outs become one.
Russell Martin and his beard stride to the plate. A hard fastball outside induces another weak pop up down the right field line. Alejandro De Aza is out there. I believe he was in on the last weak pop up…
Look, folks, baseball is hard.
So what should have been three outs by now remains one. And Batista scores to make it 2-0.
This brings up Danny Valencia. A fastball misses inside. Then two sliders miss low and in the dirt. (Those sliders again!). Rodriguez gets a called strike on a fastball, then misses inside with another and Valencia walks to load the bases.
Now Kevin Pillar has a chance to show his stuff. A fastball misses low and in, and another is fouled off. Pillar swings and misses on a low change, and it’s 1-2. Fastball fouled off. Change outside. Change fouled off. Then a hard fastball at 95 bears in on Pillar. Weak contact again, as he pops it up to second to the normally sure-handed Dustin Pedroia. Normally. To wit:
Petey can’t see it and it drops. Colabello scores, but someone has the wherewithal to grab the ball and fire it to second for the force. It’s 3-0 with 2 outs. Rodriguez could still get out of this!
Now Ryan Goins is up with two outs and two on. Ryan Goins with the career OPS of .561. A fastball fouled back. 0-1. Another slider in the dirt. A fastball up and in and it’s 2-1. Then a 92 mph fastball up and in that Goins somehow is all over. It’s deposited neatly and just barely over the right field fence for a 3-run homer. 6-0 Jays. Rodriguez would finally strike out Jose Reyes to get out of the inning, but the damage at that point had clearly been done.
Strangely, Rodriguez comes back out for the top of the 5th. Maybe because John Farrell realizes he really hasn’t pitched THAT bad. Maybe he’s right! Rodriguez gets Donaldson to bounce out to second. Batista grounds out to third. Two quick outs! But this wasn’t Rodriguez’ day, and he throws four straight pitches low and outside to walk Encarnacion. He’s down to 92 on the gun at this point. Either out of gas or trying to aim it in there. Then Colabello again. He pops up on the first pitch, but by now Rodriguez probably figures a pop up is worse than a line drive. And…
… he’s pretty much right. Another one lost in the Bermuda triangle. Encarnacion scores all the way from first to make it 7-0. Russell Martin lines a fastball to left after that, which is bobbled by Hanley Ramirez.
Oops! Colabello scores, it’s 8-0 and Rodriguez is done.
Enter knuckleballer Steven Wright with Martin still on base. First pitch:
Boom. Valencia just crushes it over the Monster. Russell is charged to Rodriguez. It’s 10-0 Blue Jays, and nine of those runs belong to the rookie starter.
This is what I’m going to call a FIPPY game for Rodriguez. He didn’t pitch well, by any stretch of the imagination. But he didn’t pitch that badly either. His ERA for that game in a vacuum was 17.36. That’s horrendous! But his FIP was 7.39. Still bad, but certainly less disastrous. He walked three in just 4.2 innings, and only struck out one. So that’s not great. But take away a couple miscues or just bad-luck plays, and he’s out of that awful fourth inning with minimal damage. Rodriguez had a rough outing, on a day he didn’t have his best stuff. With some luck, a pitcher can muscle through a start like that. Rodriguez had actively bad luck, and he couldn’t.
The one thing I take away from this start is Rodriguez’ shaky control of his off-speed stuff. His fastball is very good. But without his changeup and slider, he’s a one trick pony, and major league hitters can sit on a good fastball. Rodriguez’s changeup is supposed to be his out pitch against righties. The slider is supposed to keep lefties off balance. He’ll need to gain more consistent command of both to get major league hitters out on a consistent basis. Past results seem to suggest he can do that, so maybe this one bad start is just a blip on the radar screen. But scouts (Kiley McDaniel among them) graded Rodriguez’ command the lowest of all his attributes, so maybe this is something to keep an eye on.
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