Among a handful of options, none of which were or should have been Dallas Keuchel, the Cleveland Indians decided upon 25-year-old fireballer Jefry Rodriguez as Saturday’s replacement for the fallen Mike Clevinger.
The righty was not the headliner of the trade that sent Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals. That honor went to toolsy-but-raw outfielder Daniel Johnson.
Rodriguez was seen as a potentially impactful piece for the Indians bullpen, and a fringe contender in spring training. He was ultimately optioned down early on in spring. Due to Clevinger’s injury, the youngster has been re-summoned perhaps much earlier than thought.
Zack Meisel of The Athletic noted that Rodriguez is not the long-term plan for the rotation, as the team will reassess its options. With an off-day upcoming on April 18, the team will not need a fifth starter the next time through the rotation.
For now, Rodriguez is decently stretched out, going 5.2 innings in his lone start at Triple-A Columbus on April 6. In that start, he scattered seven hits to the tune of three earned, but most importantly did not walk anyone.
That inability to command his pitches is one of the two major weaknesses for the sophomore. In his 52 major league innings for the Nationals last season, Rodriguez walked 37 (15.9% walk rate). His career walk-rate in the minors was a more palatable 10.4 percent, but he again walked six in 6.2 innings in spring.
Despite impressive fastball velocity at 95.3 mph (83rd percentile in 2018), Rodriguez’s 8.1 percent swinging strike-rate and 20.6% whiff-rate are each below average. That is more due to the fact that he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher.
The lack of a deep repertoire served as the reason for a potential stint in the Indians bullpen, where he ended with the Nationals.
Rodriguez does throw a four-seam fastball and a sinker, as well as a curve and a changeup. (Yes, four pitches.)
Despite technically being different pitches, the pair of fastballs do not differ much. Each sits around 95 mph, and the sinker’s downward movement (19 inches on average) is closer to the sink on a league-average four-seamer (16 inches) than a league-average sinker (26 inches).
That sinker was rocked to the tune of a .566 slugging percentage, a lucky mark given its .649 expected slugging percentage on 194 offerings. The average exit velocity on the pitch was 89.1 mph.
Meanwhile, the change does not qualify as much, sitting at 89.7 mph, and justifiably used on 13% of his offerings.
The good news is that four-seamer, and thus the intrigue. Rodriguez’s heater spun at 2367 rpm in 2018 (72nd percentile) — five rpm higher than that of Jacob deGrom — to go with the high-end velocity.
That, maybe combined with some effective wildness and a lacking scouting report, largely kept hitters off of the righty in his rookie season. Even at a near-league average hard-hit rate of 33.8% , Rodriguez surrendered just a 85.6 mph average exit velocity (90th percentile).
The give-and-take of Rodriguez and his fastball continued in the small major league sample, as he limited hitters to a .389 wOBA and .341 xwOBA, but also had a 25% walk rate on the pitch. Obviously, having an inaccurate pitch that is your most used when behind in the count is not ideal.
All in all, Rodriguez, and the interest therein, are the Indians’ best option come Saturday. Adam Plutko is hurt, and Cody Anderson still needs more time to get settled before being thrust into a major league lineup. Chih-Wei Hu would have also been a sensible selection, but started Tuesday in Columbus.
Because of the time in between Rodriguez’s start Saturday and the next need for a fifth starter, the team can wait and see on their options when that time comes. Anderson may be closer to another foray in the bigs. Hu could be the next to get his opportunity.
There remains a possibility that the team still would sign one of the many unemployed former-aces, just not Keuchel, who is still seeking deal well into the millions.
But hey, James Shields, Yovani Gallardo, and yes, Bartolo Colon remain available and have not formally announced retirement.