Los Angeles Angels: Francisco Rodriguez

Francisco Rodriguez back at Square One

March, 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.

Question No. 5: Is the bullpen good enough?

January, 15, 2012
We’ll preview spring training 2012 – one of the most anticipated in Angels’ history – with a series of five crucial questions about the upcoming season. First up: relief.

The Angels' bullpen was the area of the team that experienced the least upheaval this winter. The offense got an injection of power and plate discipline from future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. The rotation finally took on a left-hander, and a pretty good one, in C.J. Wilson.

General manager Jerry Dipoto didn't neglect the bullpen -- he added veteran setup man LaTroy Hawkins -- but it probably wasn't the overhaul some Angels fans had hoped for. Unless something changes in the next four weeks (and it might), the Angels will go into spring training banking on second-year closer Jordan Walden. Considering he's 24 and maintained his upper-90s fastball all year, that's not necessarily a bad thing. When I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, Walden sounded excited to erase bad memories from the end of his 2011 season.

But if you're poking this team for soft areas, places where it might be susceptible, you'd probably point your stick at the relief pitching. Angels relievers actually had the second-best ERA in the American League (3.52), but that obscures some of deeper problems. They allowed opponents to bat .247 against them, which ranked ninth, and they walked 185 batters. Only six teams saw more walks from their relievers. When the Angels were trying to find their footing early in the season, the bullpen was awful. When they were chasing teams late, it tended to implode at inopportune times.

Letting Fernando Rodney walk (pun intended) will solve only so many problems. The scrutiny will be on Walden, but it's almost equally vital that some other young arms continue to develop. Let's assume that Hawkins and Scott Downs stay healthy and do what they normally do, which is to be two of the more-dependable eighth-inning guys. Hisanori Takahashi is probably fairly bankable in low-stress roles.

No other Angels reliever has proven he can lock down an inning or two. Rich Thompson was the best of the youngsters, but had some shaky moments, especially late in the season. Bobby Cassevah and Trevor Bell will be fighting to stay on the roster as usual.

When the Angels were throwing a blanket over the late innings in 2002, Francisco Rodriguez got much of the credit, but it was depth that made the team so hard to rally against. Troy Percival, Brendan Donnelly and Ben Weber gave Mike Scioscia options when he was mapping out the final three to 15 outs of a game.

The Angels might not need that kind of dominance to rumble into the playoffs in 2012 -- on paper, they've got the talent to barge right in -- but as we sit a month before spring training, the bullpen remains a major question mark.

Angels Moment No. 17: Frankie's 62 saves

August, 3, 2011
It’s surprising how quickly Francisco Rodriguez’s record-setting 2008 season has faded from the collective consciousness of Angels’ fans.

Maybe it’s because Rodriguez was gone soon after setting it, departing as a free agent to the New York Mets. Maybe it’s because of Rodriguez’s behavior since, which included being arrested for assault after attacking his children’s grandfather at Citi Field last August.

Or, maybe it’s because people simply don’t respect the save statistic as much as many of baseball’s older records.

But for a franchise that’s only 50 years old and doesn’t hold many appreciable major-league records (Nolan Ryan’s modern-era strikeout mark from 1973 stands out), it was a milestone year. Rodriguez blew away the previous single-season save mark set 18 years earlier by Bobbie Thigpen, eclipsing it by five.

He didn’t do it in quite the spectacular fashion of 2002, the year he arrived as a 20-year-old rookie with an electric fastball and a slider that embarrassed respected hitters. But the Angels gave Rodriguez an extraordinary 69 save opportunities and he only blew seven of them.

The Angels had a strong team that year and Rodriguez started fast, recording his 35th save by the All-Star break, a record. He set the Angels’ single-season record by Aug. 20 and had 50 saves by Aug. 24. No one had gotten to that round number since Mariano Rivera in 2004. At 26, he was the youngest reliever ever to notch 50 saves.

The day the Angels clinched the AL West, Sept. 10, against the New York Yankees, Rodriguez saved his 56th game, putting him just one behind Thigpen. He tied him the next night, against the Seattle Mariners, then set the record two days later against Seattle.

Voters weren’t particularly impressed. Rodriguez finished third in AL Cy Young balloting and sixth in MVP voting. It was a record that produced a collective sigh from the baseball-watching public, perhaps, but it was a record nonetheless.

This story is part of an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. These are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.

Angels 15, Rangers 4: Three Up, Three Down

April, 19, 2011
The bottom of the Angels' slumping batting order powered a 15-4 win over the Texas Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington Tuesday night to help the team regain a share of first place.

The Good:

Youngster No. 1. It took a few weeks, but Mark Trumbo's power is starting to show up in a big way. He ripped a pitch from Colby Lewis into the left-field stands for a two-run home run to give the Angels a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning. Trumbo went 3-for-5 with four RBIs to continue doing an excellent Kendrys Morales imitation.

Youngster No. 2. When Erick Aybar comes off the disabled list tomorrow, the Angels will have to demote somebody to make room on the roster. It's hard to imagine they'll choose catcher Hank Conger, who continued to provide them offense they don't otherwise get from their catchers. Conger went 2-for-3, scored two, drove in two and is batting .333.

Youngster No. 3. Of all the young players on this roster, Peter Bourjos has been the least consistent offensively. He had a monster night Tuesday, though, with four hits, three runs scored and four RBIs. The surprising part of his game is the power. He has seven extra-base hits so far.

The Bad:

"Big bats." Howie Kendrick has been easily the most dangerous hitter in this lineup, but he had a brutal night, going 0-for-6. Add that to some slumping middle-of-the-order bats and you get a big soft spot in the middle. The Nos. 2-3-4 hitters managed to go 1-for-14 and the Angels scored 15 runs. Go figure.

The veteran. Bobby Abreu is the Angels' oldest player and he sets a great example for younger hitters with his deep pool of patience, but he's been entirely unproductive lately. Abreu has one hit in his last 22 at-bats and even the walks have been fewer, just one in the last five games.

That Francisco Rodriguez. It's tough to win a good job in the Angels' bullpen these days, because most of the pitchers there are throwing the ball quite well. Francisco Rodriguez might not be long for the major leagues if he struggles in the role they hand him. Rodriguez allowed three base runners and two runs in the ninth inning.

Indians 4, Angels 0: Three Up, Three Down

April, 11, 2011
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Tyler Chatwood, a 21-year-old right-hander, looked shaky in the early innings of his major-league debut and Mitch Talbot stymied the Angels for eight innings in a 4-0 loss to the streaking Cleveland Indians Monday night.

The Good:

The Indians. Cleveland won the season series from the Angels last year and they’ve started 2011 in a hurry. Cleveland won its eighth straight game. The Indians are averaging nearly six runs per game. They've got some good young players and it's starting to show.

New guys. Francisco Rodriguez was a tough-luck cut in spring training, especially since he’d pitched solidly for the Angels in 43 games last year. He made his return to the big leagues a good one with two scoreless innings. Lefty Scott Downs came off the disabled list, where he spent a couple of weeks with a broken toe, and pitched a breezy eighth inning.

Nerve. Before the game, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called Chatwood a "makeup guy." He meant that the youngster wasn't going to be intimidated by the atmosphere, and Chatwood showed some signs of toughness. He walked the bases loaded in the fifth inning, but managed to get Shin-Soo Choo to hit into a double play to get out of it. It wasn't a great debut, but it wasn't disastrous either.

The Bad:

Nerves. Chatwood isn’t going anywhere. The Angels need starting pitchers and he's the best option they’ve got right now. He looked a little jumpy in his first major-league start, which is understandable. He walked four batters in five innings and threw nearly as many balls (44) as strikes (46). The big blow was Matt LaPorta’s opposite-field three-run home run in the second inning.

Easy outs. No, that wasn’t Greg Maddux. It was Talbot, a 27-year-old right-hander who entered Monday’s game with an 11-13 record and 4.78 ERA in a three-year career. The Angels looked baffled by his high-80s sinker and occasional off-speed pitches. The Angels didn’t get a runner to second base until the fifth inning. They didn’t get a runner past second base all night.

Who else? It’s becoming a daily tradition to include Vernon Wells in this category, and he kept it alive by continuing his early spiral. Wells now has four hits in 44 at-bats since he joined the Angels. Wells would have to hit .464 for the next couple of weeks to be hitting .300 after his first 100 Angels at-bats.

What matters so far?

March, 2, 2011
After four spring games, you could argue that none of it matters.

A slightly less jaundiced view is that a few things matter.

One thing that probably doesn't matter is how the veteran starting pitchers are throwing. Guys such as Jered Weaver, Joel Pineiro, Dan Haren and, to a lesser extent, Scott Kazmir, are just getting their arms ready for the abuse of the next seven months. Their outings are the equivalent of a jogger stretching before a run.

Things that could have a bearing on the Angels' 2011 season:

Kendry Morales hasn't played in a game and hasn't even been in camp the past couple of days. He was running with about 80 percent of his weight on his legs before he caught a virus and had to stay home sick. It's not that we know he won't be ready by Opening Day, but it's never good to see a spring with so many stops and starts.

Say things go smoothly and he has no setbacks, he is able to run with all 235 pounds on his left ankle in five days and he is playing 10 days from today. That would put him on target to start at first base March 31. But things rarely go that smoothly, do they?
Peter Bourjos is making stuff happen. The Angels' offense looks a little lumpy right now. You've got a solid middle of the order from Bobby Abreu to Erick Aybar batting seventh, but the edges have the potential to be flaccid. If Bourjos can connect the No. 9 hole to leadoff man Maicer Izturis, it could help catalyze unexpected action. Bourjos has been working on his bunting this spring, according to mlb.com, and he has scored four runs in three games.

These are good things for the Angels.

• The young arms are bringing appropriate levels of heat. Pitching has carried the day for the Angels in these early games, particularly the youngest pitchers on the roster. Tyler Chatwood, Michael Kohn, Garrett Richards, Francisco Rodriguez, Rich Thompson and Jordan Walden have combined for nine scoreless innings.

That matters, at least a little, because all those guys have big upsides and might not be in camp long, and the Angels have desperately lacked quality pitching depth in recent seasons. You saw that last year. After Pineiro got injured, the season essentially collapsed. Early indications are that some of the young arms will start forcing difficult decisions, and difficult roster decisions are better than easy ones in spring training.



Howie Kendrick
.293 7 75 85
HRM. Trout 36
RBIM. Trout 111
RM. Trout 115
OPSM. Trout .939
WJ. Weaver 18
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOJ. Weaver 169