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Hidden find Richard Rodriguez keeps missing bats, settling into Pirates’ bullpen | TribLIVE.com
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Hidden find Richard Rodriguez keeps missing bats, settling into Pirates’ bullpen

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, May 12, 2018 8:39 p.m
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez watches the final out against the Giants Friday, May 11, 2018, at PNC Park.

Not to say Richard Rodriguez’s major league career began poorly, but over his first four appearances for the Orioles last September, Rodriguez allowed four home runs and 12 hits in 42⁄3 innings.

“Rough experience (for him) in Baltimore,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Not many times you get called up in September and get sent down in September.

“There’s an open roster!”

Indeed, getting cut in September — the Orioles designated Rodriguez for assignment on the 17th — is rare. Active rosters are expanded from the regular 25-man limit to anyone on the 40-man.

“I (can’t tell you) why they sent me down in September,” Rodriguez said through a translator Saturday. “I wish I could, because I have the same question.”

But as bad as Rodriguez’s first stint in the majors was, his second has been that good.

In 10 outings so far for the Pirates, Rodriguez has a 23-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed 15 baserunners and two runs in 131⁄3 innings.

“A huge difference in my confidence,” Rodriguez said, “(comparing) last year and this year.”

Picked up as a minor-league free agent and after beginning in season in Triple-A, Rodriguez’s rise through the Pirates has been meteoric.

Now 28 years old and with parts of five seasons of Triple A ball on his résumé, is Rodriguez establishing himself as a quality major league reliever?

“We’ve wanted to give him every opportunity for it to be sustainable success,” Hurdle said. “Not just six weeks, two months (of success). So we’ve worked with him, showing him his strengths. He’s talked to us about his strengths and what we think he can do within the strike zone and how he can work the strike zone with a selection of pitches. He’s off to a really good start — his confidence is probably at an all-time high.”

After another scoreless inning Friday, of course it is. Rodriguez’s ERA sits at 1.35, his strikeouts per nine innings (admittedly in a small sample) is 15.5.

And he’s doing it all with a “stuff” package that, on paper, wouldn’t seem to wow. Two pitches, per Statcast: four-seam fastballs (70.5 percent of the time) and sliders (29 percent). His average fastball velocity, according to Fan Graphs, is 93.7 mph.

“This is where you give a lot of credit to the people who are doing the hunting for the players,” Hurdle said, referring to minor league scouts. “(They) see a guy throwing 92, being able to pitch to different quadrants, to get swing and miss, high spin rate, up top, throws a slider that can move it around.

“And then you go through your analytics program, and actually he graded out very highly in the profiling, in our top five guys … to take a shot at.”

Rodriguez always has had a knack for missing bats: He’s induced 9.22 strikeouts per nine innings over a 398 minor league innings. For the Pirates over the past four weeks, it’s been more of the same. In the nine appearances in which he’s recorded more than one out, Rodriguez has had a strikeout in each of them.

How?

Rodriguez attributes it to the mental part of pitching, as well as crediting pitching coach Ray Searage, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas and catcher Francisco Cervelli.

According to Statcast, just two of Rodriguez’s 201 pitches this season have been “barreled,” and just 28 have been put in play.

“I think a fresh start helped him mentally ,” Hurdle said, “and then I think there’s a group of guys (in the clubhouse) who have also welcomed him, and the opportunity to pitch has shown up — and he’s done the rest of the work on his own. We’ll continue to give him the ball and see where he can take it and where we can take it together.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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