Before a single pitch was thrown in the regular season, York manager Andy Etchebarren anointed R.J. Rodriguez the closer. He earned it with the way he pitched last season, Etchebarren reasoned.
But now, everything seems up in the air.
About a week ago, Rodriguez needed 23 pitches to survive the ninth inning, and he threw only eight strikes. Etchebarren announced a few days later that Rodriguez had lost the ninth-inning job. And even though Rodriguez came in and earned saves Friday and Saturday, Etchebarren did not budge. Rodriguez had not won back the job, it simply worked out so that Rodriguez came in during the ninth inning.
He was upset about pitch selection Saturday night — when the Revs won. He didn’t understand some of the pitch selection that allowed the winning run to come to the plate. And he was upset again after Rodriguez’s first blown save of the season Sunday — questioning pitch again.
Rodriguez admitted Friday, this spring has been difficult.
A former Pirates prospect, it’s his first full season in independent baseball. Meaning he didn’t report to a training camp in February preparing for the season. He’s not alone. During spring camp, Sean Stidfole didn’t look like himself. I expected him to comment that he was slow bouncing back after appearing in 68 games last season. He had no issue with last year’s workload, but he did note that he struggled to adjust to a spring without weeks of camp.
The good news is nothing appears to be wrong with Rodriguez’s arm. The problem has been pitch selection.
I’ve heard Etchebarren talk about pitch selection dating back to his first day on the job in August 2009. And the burden of selection falls on the pitcher. The catcher might call the pitch, but the pitcher always has the option to shake off the catcher. Long Island rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth Sunday against Rodriguez.
“I got a sinkerball pitcher on the mound, and we try to strike two guys out with high fastballs,” Etchebarren said Sunday. “One hits a double, and one hits a homer. Stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Etchebarren’s reaction may seem harsh, but pitch selection was something he was upset about Saturday night as well — when Rodriguez worked out of a bases-loaded jam with one out. Rodriguez walked Matt Padgett on a 3-1 pitch to load the bases, bringing the winning run to the plate.