Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora expects a pitcher with Eduardo Rodriguez’ talents to be more aggressive in attacking opposing hitters.
The boxscore from his latest outing provides little reason for concern. Rodriguez pitched a pair of scoreless innings, allowing three hits without a walk while striking out two. A solid performance but not good enough from Cora’s perspective. The manager ripped into E-Rod to let him know where he went wrong.
According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Cora was irked by Rodriguez’ lack of aggression putting away a pair of hitters with two outs in the inning. Rodriguez has electric stuff capable of generating swings and misses yet he wasn’t taking advantage of those talents. He allowed the hitters to get ahead in the count rather than going after them.
"“For him to go deeper into games, he needs to attack guys,” Cora said of Rodriguez. “His stuff was good, he got some swings and misses but those are things we need to get better and he knows it.”"
Lasting deep into games has been a hurdle preventing Rodriguez from reaching the next level. He lasted more than six innings in only two of his starts last season and never made it through seven. He failed to make it to six innings in 14 of his starts.
Coaches and teammates rave about how Rodriguez has the best stuff on the staff but he doesn’t always seem to trust it. He nibbles too much around the edges when he should be aggressively going after hitters. Here’s my best stuff, try to hit it. That’s the mentality Cora wants from him.
The more passive approach often results in Rodriguez falling behind hitters, giving them the advantage of being able to lay off tough pitches and sit on what they’re looking for. It also drives up his pitch count early. There were times when Rodriguez was dominating his opponent, only to get an early hook in the fifth or sixth inning when his pitch count eclipsed 100.
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Opposing hitters tallied 206 plate appearances last season when they were ahead in the count against Rodriguez, compared to 160 with E-Rod ahead and 187 with the count even. That put Rodriguez behind in the count over 39 percent of the time. Not exactly the split you want from your starter. Compare that to Chris Sale, who was behind hitters only about 26 percent of the time last season.
Cora has been pushing Rodriguez because he recognizes how high his ceiling can be. Last year’s 3.82 ERA and 10.1 K/9 suggested a breakout but it’s really only the tip of the iceberg. He’s capable of more but to reach that level he’ll need to reduce walks and avoid falling behind by wasting pitches. Attacking the strike zone aggressively would help solve those problems.
Staying healthy has been a problem throughout E-Rod’s career but injuries aren’t entirely within his control. His approach on the mound and strategy against opposing hitters falls on the pitcher. If he takes his manager’s advice, we could be in store for a career year from Rodriguez.