Tigers new closer has knack for leading young pitchers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — There is a side benefit to adding veteran Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers bullpen.

Along with his 386 saves, his sub-1.0 WHIP and his 4.6-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio the last two seasons, Rodriguez will provide leadership and mentoring to an otherwise young stable of relief pitchers.

“One of the things that attracted us and our scouts was how in the bullpen he has been such a good leader for the pitchers,” said Tigers general manager Al Avila, who acquired Rodriguez from the Brewers in a trade for minor league second baseman Javier Betancourt. “We have some young guys and that’s what we want them to learn — how to get outs. That’s the most important thing.”

And that’s what Rodriguez has learned to do over 14 big league seasons.

Tigers land experienced closer in Rodriguez

“Early in his career he had a big arm, but he’s had to learn a few things as he’s gotten older in his career,” Avila said. “He’s learned how to pitch, how to get guys out. When he was in Milwaukee, he taught younger guys. He’s got that knack.”

Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith and former Tiger Corey Knebel all benefited from Rodriguez’s mentoring in Milwaukee. Hopefully can have a similar positive impact on some of the young Tigers pitchers like Drew VerHagen, Alex Wilson, Kyle Ryan and fellow Venezuelan Bruce Rondon.

The Tigers lacked a veteran bullpen leader last season after Joe Nathan went down in the season opener and Joakim Soria was traded in July.

To Rodriguez, it’s all about paying it forward. He wants to help young pitchers just like Troy Percival helped him early in his career with the Angels.

“What I can say with a lot of pride, everything I know about this game, about how to prepare myself to go into the ninth inning, how to develop myself, I owe to Troy,” Rodriguez said. “Troy was a big part of my career. And I take pride that he didn’t waste his time with me.

“All the times he sat down with me, teaching me how to pitch and approach hitters — I am forever thankful.”