When the Milwaukee Brewers decided to bring back Francisco Rodriguez for roughly the 37th time (fourth time, technically), it was seen as a good move to add depth and a veteran presence. Through six games in 2014, he’s already meant far more than that.
With Jim Henderson still searching for his velocity, manager Ron Roenicke has turned to Rodriguez to close out games and he’s looked like the K-Rod of old. In his three outings (two save opportunities), Rodriguez has allowed just one hit and no runs while striking out six batters in three frames.
On Saturday night in Fenway Park, he struck out the side in the 11th inning to give Milwaukee a 7-6 win over the defending champion Boston Red Sox.
Perhaps the most impressive part of K-Rod’s first few appearances is the fact he hasn’t walked a batter and thrown less than 17 pitches per inning. For a guy whose outings are labeled as “30 pitches of Hell,” it’s been quite the sight to watch Rodriguez go smoothly through the order.
While Henderson hopes to one day earn the closer’s role back, Rodriguez has been a huge part of the bullpen’s phenomenal open to the season — and a mental stabilizer for the whole team.
With 306 career saves, there’s never any worry that the situation will get to him. For 13 years Rodriguez has continued to find ways to get big outs with the game on the line, even without the same fastball he had with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Much like one-time Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman, it’s K-Rod’s devastating change-up that has enabled the 32-year-old right-hander to baffle hitters and remain a valuable piece of the puzzle. His strikeout rate while in Milwaukee is a bit lower compared to his career norm, but he’s also lowered his walk rate with the Brewers and given himself more margin for error.
While Will Smith and Brandon Kintzler are better pitchers at this point in their careers, Rodriguez is best-suited for the traditional closer’s role, especially with Henderson working through his issues.
Should Rodriguez continue his current trend, it’s beneficial on a pair of levels for Roenicke.
He can feel comfortable putting K-Rod into the ninth inning where the mental side of pitching becomes a factor. Meanwhile, Smith and Kintzler can be used in more important, high-leverage situations in the seventh and eighth frames where physical tools, matchups and multiple-inning stints are vital.
Rodriguez has been a terrific safety net early in the season. His effectiveness will continue to allow the Brewers’ bullpen to be optimally used as the season wears on and remain strong through the dog days of summer.