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Francisco Rodriguez back at Square One

3/14/2012

Two years ago, everybody knew his name, but nobody knew who he was.

He was the Mexican Francisco Rodriguez, not the Venezuelan one. He was the one who didn't break into the big leagues until he was 27, not the 20-year-old World Series hero.

But by early 2010, people were learning to distinguish the two. Rodriguez showed up at Yankee Stadium with a big fastball and a fearlessness that helped earn him a niche in the Angels bullpen. His first seven appearances were scoreless, the best streak by an Angels pitcher to start his career since Jered Weaver rattled off 13 scoreless innings in 2006.

Then, last May, Rodriguez began to realize something was wrong. He couldn't pitch on back-to-back days. He tried to warm up and couldn't get loose. Doctors ordered an MRI and found a partially torn labrum and a partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

That essentially ended 2011 for Rodriguez. Before long, his career was back at the ground floor. The Angels took him off the 40-man roster and offered him a minor-league deal and an invitation to spring training.

Though he feels he rediscovered his fastball pitching in the Mexican winter league, he's under no illusions. It's going to be an uphill slog to get back in the major leagues.

"I feel if I can pitch better than I did before, I'll be fine," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, 29, already has taken one tentative step back on that ascent. He has pitched four scoreless innings this spring, picking up a couple of saves, and his fastball appears to have gotten back to its pre-2011 velocity. Batters are hitting .154 against him.

The question is whether he can pitch better than relievers who are on the 40-man roster, who have a big leg up. One factor in Rodriguez's favor: The Angels won't need a fifth starter until April 15, so they could carry an extra reliever for a while.

"There are definitely roster considerations that would change some of the things you look at, but if a guy like Francisco Rodriguez pitches to his capabilities, he's definitely a guy who could win a spot on our team," manager Mike Scioscia said.