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Rodriguez leads Tigers' attack in rout of Halos

@beckjason
May 9, 2019

DETROIT -- Ronny Rodriguez has a habit of losing his batting helmet when he gets moving on the basepaths, a trait he seems to share with his former teammate in the Indians’ farm system, Jose Ramirez. “It’s kind of big,” Rodriguez said after Wednesday's 10-3 win over the Angels at

DETROIT -- Ronny Rodriguez has a habit of losing his batting helmet when he gets moving on the basepaths, a trait he seems to share with his former teammate in the Indians’ farm system, Jose Ramirez.

“It’s kind of big,” Rodriguez said after Wednesday's 10-3 win over the Angels at Comerica Park. “I think I need to tell [clubhouse manager Jim] Schmakel to get me one smaller.”

Ramirez’s flying helmet became a symbol of his breakout in Cleveland a few years ago, a big reason why Rodriguez was available for the Tigers to sign as a Minor League free agent a year and a half ago. With each trip around the bases Rodriguez takes, helmet or no, his spot in Detroit seems a little more secure.

“He’s really playing, really swinging, getting a lot of hits,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. ”He’s a big pick-us-up. We need people to get hot. We need more up and down the lineup. Fortunately for us, he came up and we put him in the middle of it and he’s getting his hits.”

Box score

Rodriguez spent a lot of time with his helmet off Wednesday. The one hit he was missing by the end of Wednesday’s win was the one that would’ve allowed him to trot around the bases with his helmet secure.

As Rodriguez gathered himself at second base following his fifth-inning RBI double, Angels first baseman Albert Pujols snuck up behind him. The future Hall of Famer had Rodriguez’s helmet, which went flying as Rodriguez rounded first base. A year ago, Pujols was at first base for Rodriguez’s first hit in his Major League debut last May.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Welcome to The Show,’” Rodriguez recalled. “I said, ‘Thank you, man.’ And I got my helmet from him today.”

Someone else retrieved Rodriguez’s helmet after his first-inning triple. He lost it around second base as his liner to left bounced past an awkward diving attempt from Brian Goodwin and rolled towards the fence. Nicholas Castellanos and Niko Goodrum scored with their helmets on, putting Detroit in front for good after David Fletcher’s leadoff homer off Matthew Boyd gave the Angels a brief lead.

Rodriguez kept his helmet on for his RBI single as part of a two-run third inning, but he lost it on his groundout in the seventh. He fell well short of the home run he would’ve needed for the cycle, something he admitted was on his mind, but he was still trying to beat out a leadoff single in what was then a six-run game.

The aggressiveness fits Rodriguez’s entire game, starting with his approach at the plate. While his swing is shorter than last season in order to get him to more pitches, he’s not hitting the ball any softer when he connects. And lately, he’s connecting a lot.

Wednesday’s 3-for-4 performance marked Rodriguez’s fourth multi-hit outing in six games in May. Twelve of his 18 hits this year have gone for extra bases, including seven doubles. Yet, he hasn’t struck out more than once in a game since fanning three times on April 24 at Boston.

“Man, he can swing the bat,” said Boyd, rewarded for six innings of one-run ball with his third win in his last four starts. “That’s pretty impressive. A homer away from the cycle today speaks to his ability. I played against him in the Minors, and everyone knows he could always hit. Unfortunately he had some guys ahead of him in Cleveland. I’m really happy for him.”

Part of it, Rodriguez said, is the confidence that comes from regular at-bats, something he has picked up over the last couple weeks with Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison on the injured list. Another part is a change in his stance, standing closer to home plate on Hall of Famer Alan Trammell’s suggestion in Spring Training.

“It’s something with my front foot. When I step up in the box, I’m landing on the line,” Rodriguez said. “It’s something that has really helped me.”

The difference, in swing and confidence, is striking. While his swing-and-miss rate is about the same as last season, his hard-hit rate has jumped from about 30 percent last year to 52.6 percent this season before Wednesday’s results. He’s crushing fastballs for a .450 (9-for-20) average.

“He’s having a good time,” Gardenhire said. “He’s one of those guys that lifts everybody up. He’s a lot of fun, and it’s even [more fun] when he’s getting hits.”

Rodriguez, signed as a super-utility option last year before shuttling between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo for much of the summer, has found not only a secure roster spot since his recall in mid-April, he has had a near-everyday role at second and first base. With Harrison and left fielder Christin Stewart expected back by this point next week, Gardenhire could find himself trying to find playing time for two versatile hitters between Rodriguez and Niko Goodrum.

The way Rodriguez keeps hitting, Gardenhire will have to find a way, which could have Rodriguez flying across the infield on both sides.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.