No. 6 prospect Rodriguez flashes ability in MLB debut

June 12th, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook is still cultivating a relationship with the latest young arm to find his way to American Family Field, but Hook knows this about 22-year-old : he likes the uniform number.

In Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays, Rodriguez, the Brewers’ No. 6 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, became the third player in franchise history to appear in a game wearing double-zero.

“I think that says something about the kid,” Hook said. “What that is, I don’t exactly know yet.”

The Brewers will get to know Rodriguez in due course; manager Pat Murphy said he felt Rodriguez did enough to earn additional starts, but would discuss the plan with his staff before committing. Rodriguez is already the 12th different pitcher to start for Milwaukee this season through 67 games, a fact that might lead one to believe the Brewers had endured a troubled start to this season, and not as they are, 6 1/2 games up in the division.

Murphy was hoping for six innings from Rodriguez -- he got less than that, as Rodriguez lasted 3 2/3 innings on 71 pitches. Rodriguez struck out Blue Jays leadoff man Spencer Horwitz to begin his Major League career and got ahead of three of the first four batters he faced, but then fell behind nine of his final 15 batters.

Rodriguez was charged with two earned runs on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts. It wasn’t the most memorable of the Brewers’ Major League debuts this season, but it was a start.

“I’m really pleased,” Murphy said. “I thought he threw the ball well. I thought he showed tremendous poise.”

The outing made Rodriguez the 16th player born in Nicaragua to make it to the Majors. His family moved to Miami when Rodriguez was eight and he grew up there before becoming Milwaukee’s sixth-round Draft pick in 2021. It’s been a fast rise since then. Rodriguez was the organization’s Minor League pitcher of the year in back-to-back seasons in ‘22 and ‘23, sharing the honor with left-hander Robert Gasser last year.

Gasser, like Rodriguez, made his Major League debut this year. It was a setback with Gasser’s troublesome left elbow that opened a slot for Rodriguez to become the eighth player to make his MLB debut with the Brewers this season. Only the Athletics (nine) have had more.

“He’s a pitcher, you know? He’s looking to get outs in different ways,” Murphy said. “He’s not a ‘stuff’ guy necessarily, but he’s a pitcher. If he gets on track he can give you some length. That’s crucial for us to be able to get deep in the game.”

It’s a true six-pitch mix. Statcast tracked 16 four-seam fastballs from Rodriguez -- including the swinging strike three to start the game -- 15 sliders, 14 sinkers, 11 cutters, 10 changeups and five curveballs.

He called making the Majors “a dream come true,” but wanted a better result.

“After that [first] inning I felt like I was falling behind hitters a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “I had a lot of weak contact, but I have to work on getting ahead of hitters. … That first inning was a little short, so I couldn’t see what was working at the time. In the ‘pen, I felt like everything was working well. I was just leaving a lot of pitches up.”

Sometimes, the first step for a player is learning he belongs. Rodriguez had a head start in that department last spring, when he pitched for Nicaragua against a potent Puerto Rico lineup in World Baseball Classic pool play in Miami.

Because of that experience, Tuesday wasn’t his first time on the mound in a Major League stadium.

“I feel like I was really confident because I’ve been in situations like that,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t have a problem with that. Just keep doing what I do.”

As for the uniform number, it’s mostly a matter of limited inventory. With nine players on the injured list, an ever-growing roster of coaches and a crop of other numbers either officially retired or unofficially reserved, Rodriguez’s choices were on the extreme ends of the numerical spectrum.

Rather than take a number north of 60, he thought 00 might be “cool.”

Zeros are fitting for a pitcher, after all.

“I was like, ‘I’ll take it.’ I was just excited to be here,” Rodriguez said. “That was not on [my] mind. I was just focused on pitching.”