ANAHEIM -- Things almost got messy for Angels starter Chris Rodriguez in his final inning of work against the Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon.
In the fourth frame, Rodriguez walked Reese McGuire with one out to load the bases for George Springer, who was named the American League Player of the Week for the second straight week on Monday.
On the 68th and final pitch of his start, Rodriguez got the hot-hitting Springer to ground into an inning-ending double play to cap off a day on which he held the Blue Jays’ potent lineup to one run across four innings during the Halos’ 6-3 win over Toronto in Game 1 of Tuesday’s split doubleheader at Angel Stadium.
Angels manager Joe Maddon likened Rodriguez’s sinker to another reliable tool the rookie uses to get himself out of tough spots.
“His favorite golf club is a nine iron,” Maddon said. “I found that out in the dugout and I said, 'Your sinker is your nine iron. When you get in trouble, go to your favorite club.' [He got a] nice little ground ball at third. Not everybody has that in their bag. The ability to throw a ground ball and get two outs with one pitch. … A guy like [Rodriguez], he could really help himself by just understanding himself. And when you get in trouble with a runner on first base, or first and second, go with that pitch and you'll get two outs very fast.”
Entering Tuesday, Rodriguez had relied on his sinker for 64.5 percent of his pitches in 2021. In this outing, he threw it 38 times among his 68 pitches. Rodriguez said he has plenty of confidence in the pitch, and Maddon’s golf analogy put into perspective how he can use the pitch effectively.
“I believe that if I throw it anywhere over the plate that it's gonna produce weak contact, and like I said, it's what it did,” Rodriguez said. “[Maddon's analogy] made a lot of sense to me, and I liked the way he put it.”
Rodriguez, who gave up six hits and two walks with two strikeouts, was tagged for his only run in the third. He walked Springer to lead off the inning and allowed a run on a one-out double by Marcus Semien. But the 23-year-old Rodriguez worked well with traffic on the bases for the rest of his outing.
Rodriguez stranded runners in scoring position in all four frames, which included getting McGuire to ground out to leave runners on first and second in the second. He also kept Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette hitless. The only one of the three to reach base against him was Springer on his third-inning walk.
“His stuff plays against those guys,” Maddon said of Rodriguez. “He just needs to continue to get stretched out. [He] needs more experience. He's got the absolute pitches to do that with, and like I said, 'Whenever in doubt, throw that hard sinker and get your ground ball on the pull side.' I think he should walk away from that with a lot of enhanced confidence."