After an injury-shortened season in 2013, there were many questions surrounding Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Wandy Rodriguez coming into the 2014 campaign. His first start was decent, as he went six innings and allowed three earned runs against the Chicago Cubs. Rodriguez made his second start of the season on Wednesday night against the same Cubs team and things didn’t go quite as well for him.
Even though Rodriguez’s numbers look bad so far, with a 5.73 ERA and 5.86 FIP in 11 innings in 2014, the thing that is more worrisome is watching him pitch. Rodriguez has a track record of being a good middle of the rotation pitcher, but he doesn’t look like the same guy this year.
The Pirates’ lefty starter usually lives on the edges with pinpoint control of his two-seam fastball and mixes in a devastating curveball, but in 2014, his control has been far from pinpoint. In his 11 innings, he has allowed 3.27 BB/9 with an impressive 9.00 K/9.
When watching him live, there are obvious signs that he isn’t the same pitcher that he once was. Instead of sitting between 88-91 miles per hour with his fastball, Rodriguez is now hitting between 86-90 miles per hour. Some pitchers can get away with a diminished fastball, but to do so requires elite command of the strike zone. Right now, Rodriguez doesn’t have elite command. He has made a living off of getting hitters to make weak contact, and that simply isn’t happening right now. So far, Rodriguez has allowed 2.45 HR/9, and both of his starts have come against the lowly Cubs.
If you’re a numbers guy, you probably expect Rodriguez to give up less homers. So do I. However, a lot of these home runs aren’t accidents, hitters are making hard contact against the lefty at times. After just two starts, it would be a bit dramatic to hit the panic button, but concern has to be creeping into the minds of the Pirates’ brass.