Steven Rodriguez shines in relief for Gators

June, 21, 2011
06/21/11
1:30
PM ET

OMAHA, Neb. -- Rare are the meetings in college baseball between a pair of starting pitchers selected in the first round of the major league draft.

Even more unusual: A 48th-rounder who steals the show.

Florida sophomore Steven Rodriguez, selected with the 1,451st pick in 2009 by the Houston Astros, hurled 4 1/3 hitless innings of relief -- the final 3 1/3 on Tuesday morning after a stoppage of 16 hours because of severe storms Monday night -- as the Gators beat Vanderbilt 3-1 at TD Ameritrade Park and earned two days off at the College World Series.

Vanderbilt lost to Florida for the fourth time in five meetings this season, accounting for more than one-third of the Commodores' defeats. They drop into an elimination rematch with North Carolina on Wednesday, with the winner to face the Gators on Friday.

"Make no bones about it now," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said, "in order for Florida to beat Vanderbilt, they better be pretty damn good. And they are."

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Rodriguez
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireSteven Rodriguez threw 4 1/3 hitless innings of relief against Vanderbilt at the CWS.

No one was better than Rodriguez, the left-hander from Miami who has factored heavily in several key games for Florida over his two seasons.

He earned wins on the mound as a freshman to clinch the Gators' regular-season Southeastern Conference title at eventual national champ South Carolina and in the super-regional clincher over Miami to send Florida to the CWS. Ten days ago, he threw one pitch in the super regional against Mississippi State. Nick Vickerson crushed the pitch for a two-run, walk-off homer to force a decisive third game.

"I was coming in, trying to do my job," Rodriguez said. "It didn't come out in my favor, but I had to forget about it and go on to the next game."

That came Monday, when Rodriguez relieved freshman Karsten Whitson with two outs in the fifth inning after a single by Anthony Gomez trimmed the Gators' lead to two runs.

Rodriguez needed 11 pitches to escape the fifth and secure two outs in the bottom of the sixth before tornado sirens sent the crowd of 20,182 to scurry for cover. After a two-hour, 40-minute delay, play was suspended overnight.

Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said he did not hesitate to call on Rodriguez again on Tuesday. He struck out Conrad Gregor to complete the sixth inning and whiffed three more over the final three innings, issuing only a one-out walk in the seventh.

"He's done that a lot for us this year," O'Sullivan said. "He's one of those guys that may not get the notoriety, but the guys in our locker room know how good he is and how valuable he is."

Whitson, drafted ninth overall by the San Diego Padres in 2010, pitched well, too, allowing one run on four hits.

Vanderbilt starter Grayson Garvin, a supplemental first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays two weeks ago, made just one mistake in six innings -- a hanging slider blasted by Florida's Preston Tucker into the right-field seats for a three-run homer in the fourth inning.

"Good hitters, that's what they do," Garvin said. "He should have hit it where he hit it."

Tucker's homer -- his 15th of the year -- marked only the second in six games at this CWS. Teams are hitting .224 in Omaha this year with 19 extra-base hits in 380 at-bats.

In a tournament dominated by pitching, Rodriguez made his pitch for a spot among the best. Vanderbilt first baseman Aaron Westlake said he expects the Commodores to get another crack at Rodriguez.

"We'll just tip our caps to him," Westlake said. "He's a good pitcher. We'll get him next time, though."

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman

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