MESA, Ariz. – When A’s manager Bob Melvin discusses his bullpen, no topic gets him more enthusiastic than the development of Fernando Rodriguez.
Since coming to the A’s in a February 2013 trade from Houston, then dealing with Tommy John surgery, Rodriguez has gradually taken on a bigger role for Oakland’s relief corps.
Although this season’s late-inning roles already appear filled by other veterans, Rodriguez will serve an important role in Melvin’s seven-man bullpen as a do-it-all type. His most important asset might be his ability to pitch effectively for multiple innings in an outing.
“He’s a guy that’s come a long way since we first got him here,” Melvin said. “He learned a lot watching (during) his injury. He’s a guy that was slow to the plate. His breaking stuff wasn’t great. He does everything really well right now.”
After being promoted from the minors in early May last season, Rodriguez allowed just 4 of 30 inherited runners to score, a 13.3 percent rate that was the fifth-lowest by an A’s reliever since 1974.
Rodriguez, 31, describes himself as a “day and night” different pitcher since joining Oakland. While he was sidelined for the entire 2013 season recovering from surgery, he picked the brain of several people – Coco Crisp, former A’s starter Bartolo Colon, former A’s hitting coach Chili Davis – about how to better hold runners on base.
Following the 2014 campaign, as he prepared for his first full season post-surgery, Rodriguez remembered some words of wisdom Colon had shared.
“Don’t worry about velocity, it’s gonna be there,” Colon told him. “Work on your location.”
That persuaded Rodriguez to alter his offseason throwing routine. Whoever he is playing catch with holds their glove in different spots to replicate the strike zone. Rodriguez throws his fastball and cutter until he’s hitting the glove repeatedly without it moving, no matter where it’s located.
“I started trying to perfect those four corners (of the plate) with a fastball,” Rodriguez said. “You think about it, if you can do that, it’s four different pitches even though you’re only using one pitch.”
Rodriguez’s spring thus far has been marked by excellent command. He’s struck out 13 but hasn’t allowed a single walk in 10 1/3 innings. His ERA is 0.87.
The right-hander always is thinking improvement, which is why he’s now trying to throw his curve more to mix in with his fastball and cutter, after discussions with pitching coach Curt Young and bullpen coach Scott Emerson.
“If you throw that big curve ball,” Rodriguez said, “even if it’s 0-0 and it’s a ball, it’s still an effective pitch, because you’ve already thrown the timing off for them.”