Rodríguez dominates Padres in second career start

April 20th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- When the Blue Jays signed to a five-year, $32 million contract in February, they weren’t sure if they were getting a starter or reliever. They just knew they were getting a powerful right-hander who could impact their staff in some form or fashion.

Slowly but surely, Rodríguez is showing he can cut it as a starter.

Rodríguez struck out seven batters over four dominant innings to lead the Blue Jays to a 5-1 win over the Padres on Friday night at Petco Park. The 27-year-old Cuban émigré allowed three hits and one run, walked one and had the Padres' star-studded lineup flailing through an array of mid-90s fastballs, power sliders and devastating splitters.

“Regardless of whether I’m in the bullpen or starting, I always say I'm going to go out there and compete,” Rodríguez said through an interpreter. “I'm going to do my job. I'm going to try to do my best for my team to put them in a good position to win the game.

“Right now I'm a starter. I feel good and at the same time know that I’ve got a plan that I have to follow.”

The start represented an important step in Rodríguez’s progression. Though he worked as a starter early in his career in Cuba, he transitioned to relief after relocating to Japan and primarily worked as a setup man for the Chunichi Dragons. The Blue Jays decided to deploy Rodríguez as a starter and stretch him out slowly, a decision that is paying early dividends.

Rodríguez pitched 3 2/3 innings with one run allowed and six strikeouts in his Major League debut against Colorado. In his second career start Friday he bettered both his innings and strikeout totals and held down the National League’s highest scoring offense entering the day. He struck out five of his first 10 batters and stayed strong until the end. Facing his final batter of the night, he struck out Jackson Merrill swinging through a slider and leaped off the mound with an emphatic fist pump.

“He's got the weapons for [starting],” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “It's weird because he can be in the bullpen, too, and be really effective. But he definitely has the arsenal to start and the mentality to start. I think it's good that he's staying on a routine right now as he kind of gets acclimated, but he definitely is showing that he can be multiple times through an order with really, really good stuff.”

Rodríguez’s only blemish was a solo home run he allowed to Fernando Tatis Jr. in the third inning when he left a slider over the plate. Aside from that, he held the Padres down. He threw 83 pitches, 56 for strikes, and recorded at least one strikeout in every inning.

While the Blue Jays have said they are tentatively planning to cap Rodríguez to around 85 pitches, his performance has opened the possibility of raising that limit.

“I felt very strong today,” Rodríguez said. “I mean, I could go more [innings]. But I understand that we have a plan and we will be following that plan and it is what it is. But I feel very strong.”

Justin Turner homered in the first inning and the Blue Jays batted around in a four-run second inning to give Rodríguez all the run support he’d need. Bowden Francis, Tim Mayza, Yimi García and Jordan Romano followed Rodríguez with five scoreless innings of relief to wrap up a combined five-hitter.

“The bullpen, we feed a lot off those starters,” Romano said. “So when we see a guy give us a performance like that, it's like next one up, we want to do that. It’s huge for us and huge for the team.”