PHOENIX -- The Fernando Rodney experience is coming to a ballpark near you.It begins when Rodney trots out of the D-backs' bullpen for the ninth inning, his image flashes on the video board, his cap characteristically tilted toward the side and the strains of "Live the Night" pounding out of
PHOENIX -- The Fernando Rodney experience is coming to a ballpark near you.
It begins when Rodney trots out of the D-backs' bullpen for the ninth inning, his image flashes on the video board, his cap characteristically tilted toward the side and the strains of "Live the Night" pounding out of the sound system.
It's like riding up the first incline of a roller coaster. Then when everyone gets to the top, there's no way of knowing the twists and turns the ride will take. It's a thrill a minute as the stomach churns, like on Tuesday night, when Rodney had trouble closing out the Dodgers in a 7-6 win at Chase Field.
The 40-year-old closer tossed two wild pitches, hit a batter and stranded the tying and lead runs on first and second when Yasmani Grandal tapped a grounder to third to end the game. On Wednesday, Rodney made it look easy, tossing a perfect ninth inning that ended with a strikeout of Dodgers rookie sensation Cody Bellinger for a 6-4 D-backs win.
Rodney has been successful in 34 of his 39 save opportunities this season, shooting off his imaginary arrow toward the heavens after each success. And despite a number of cliffhangers, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo is content with Rodney's body of work.
"I feel really good about what he's done. We would not be where we are without Fernando Rodney," said Lovullo, whose club has a three-game lead over the Rockies for the top National League Wild Card spot after Wednesday's win. "He has taken on that last inning like a true closer does through the good times and the bad, and we know it's not a perfect science."
Lovullo also knows he has his closer of the future in Archie Bradley, a rare setup guy who has his own trot-in music courtesy of Jay-Z as he stomps in to pitch the eighth inning. Bradley has a 1.34 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 51 appearances this season, his first in the bullpen after 34 Major League appearances between 2015-16 as a starter.
The D-backs, who selected Bradley out of high school with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 Draft, have always cast the 25-year-old right-hander as a starter. Despite success early in the season in relief, Lovullo said the organization was still intent on stretching Bradley out as a starter next spring, but not now.
"My personal feeling is that he's a very dominant reliever," Lovullo said. "He might be one of the best in the game. To remove him from that spot, we would need a really good reason. And if he was going to be a quality starter under the same guidelines with the same success, we'd be foolish not to consider that.
"For right now, it's more about doing what's best for Archie Bradley and allowing him to be as good as he is, which means keeping him [where he is] for as long as possible."
For right now, the closer will still be Rodney, Mr. Thrill a Minute, who has 295 saves in his 15 big league seasons. He's with his eighth team, five of which he's been with since 2015.
This year, Rodney has a 4.53 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP. He's walked 23 batters in 45 2/3 innings compared to Bradley's 16 in 61 innings.
Just as telling is this stat: According to Statcast™, among relievers who've thrown at least 100 pitches this season and worked the ninth inning, Rodney leads the Majors with 32.7 percent of those pitches recorded as balls (267 of 815 pitches).
In comparison, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is 26th at 20.1 percent, 172 balls out of 854 pitches. Jansen has an 0.69 WHIP and has walked just six batters in 58 1/3 innings. He's saved 35 in 36 opportunities.
Constantly pitching from behind in the count is the primary reason why the Rodney experience is so thrilling. Jansen, and for that matter Bradley, throw strikes, are more reliable, and much less unnerving.
But Bradley said he hasn't even thought about closing.
"That mentality is so different," Bradley said. "Watching Rodney do it and do what he does, I don't know if I'm ready for that yet. If I'm in the bullpen, I'm pretty comfortable doing what I'm doing right now. That's for 2017. We'll figure out the rest after that."
Bradley and the D-backs won't know until they try.
Rodney, making $2.75 on a one-year contract, is a free agent after the season. Bradley still has designs on returning to start, but he's earning just above the minimum $548,000 this season and is under club control until 2022. Arizona isn't going to force him to do anything, but if the D-backs think his best role is at the end of games, that's where he'll be.
"I've said it before: I would like to start again," Bradley said. "But that will definitely be a conversation for the offseason. ... I'm just trying to focus on being a reliever this year and then we'll figure out everything when this year ends."
Until then, the roller coaster is wide open.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.