Relief ace Rodriguez stars in Halos' victory

April 29th, 2021

After veteran right-hander Alex Cobb lasted just two innings and nearly gave up an early four-run lead, it was rookie relief sensation who came in to save the day yet again for the Angels.

Rodriguez threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings, scattering one hit and one walk while striking out one to help the Angels preserve a one-run lead in an eventual 4-3 win over the Rangers in Wednesday's series finale at Globe Life Field. It helped the 22-year-old lower his ERA to 2.45 with 17 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings over seven outings this season. He’s also tied for the team lead in wins with two.

“He set up the whole game, he was the star of the game,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He defined that game for us and gave us a chance to win.”

The electric right-hander helped cool the Rangers' bats after Cobb gave up three runs on six hits, including two runs in a 27-pitch second inning. With an off-day looming, Maddon decided to go to his bullpen early, especially with Rodriguez fresh after throwing just one inning against the Astros on Sunday.

Rodriguez walked the first batter he faced, Nate Lowe, on a 3-2 sinker in the dirt, but he settled down from there, inducing a pair of groundballs before David Dahl was caught stealing to end the third inning.

Rodriguez retired seven in a row -- four by grounders -- after the caught stealing before giving up a one-out single in the sixth to Adolis García. Rodriguez was then removed from the game after setting career highs in both pitches (42) and innings. Rodriguez had previously thrown 41 pitches in two previous outings.

He said his mentality is to assume he’s finishing the game every time he comes to the mound, and outside of trying to be economical each inning, he doesn’t worry about his pitch count.

"It's extremely important keeping a pitch count down to help you to go longer in the game," Rodriguez said. "That's always a goal. Strikeouts are great, but the goal is always one pitch, one out. That's what I was going for today, and I think it worked out pretty well, luckily."

Rodriguez had plenty of success with his sinker -- that reached as high as 97.7 mph -- as he threw it 26 times, getting four swings and misses, three called strikes and five outs with the pitch. He’s called that two-seamer his primary pitch, but he still works in his curveball, slider and changeup, keeping a four-pitch arsenal despite being a reliever. Maddon believed all four pitches were effective against Texas.

“Everything was working and he attacked with his fastball,” Maddon said. "If you look at their lineup, it was a heavy lefty lineup. But with C-Rod, if he's got that sinker working, it doesn't matter. They're going to put the ball on the ground regardless."

With his success in long relief, it’s fair to wonder if it would make sense to move Rodriguez to the rotation at some point this season. But considering Rodriguez entered the season having thrown just 9 1/3 innings in the Minors since 2017 due of back issues, the Angels would rather keep him in the bullpen to monitor his innings.

Maddon, however, wouldn’t rule out a move to the rotation in the future.

“He can do either thing, but right now, we’re set at the back end [of the rotation],” Maddon said. “Making him a starter right now would be difficult. He hasn't pitched a lot of innings. It's almost like you'd have to build him up three years somehow. But like I've said, I didn't see [it] in Spring Training and thought he was more of a max-effort relief pitcher, but he's got pitchability with that curveball, changeup and slider -- and he puts the ball on the ground, so I think he can do either and believe he can be a starter."