Deception, movement key to K-Rod’s dirty change-up

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Francisco Rodriguez

Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez pitched his second scoreless inning this spring on Tuesday. He continues to demonstrate deceptive arm action with his off-speed pitches and precise location.

And his fastball got to 89 mph.

“That’s not where I’d like it,” he said. “Where I’d like it is at like 100 mph, like Bruce (Rondon).”

He laughed, but he knows his days of throwing in the upper-90s are long gone. Yet he continues to be one of the most reliable closers in the game because of his high baseball IQ, his ability to read hitters’ swings and keep them off-balance by changing speeds and locations.

Still, he wants his fastball velocity to go up another tick or two before the end of spring training.

“Just something to make my change-up more effective,” he said. “Right now I am 87, 88, 89. I will get to 90, 91, 92 — 93 if I have to reach back. If my change-up is coming in at 80, then that’s a pretty big gap (in velocity).

“Right now if the fastball is 87, and the change-up is at 83 — that’s four mph. That’s not normal.”

JV, K-Rod trigger Ausmus' take on radar guns: Overrated

He threw his change-up Tuesday anywhere between 80 and 83 mph, and it looked pretty good to manager Brad Ausmus.

“He’s got really good arm action on the change-up,” said Ausmus, who caught one of the game's most legendary change-ups — Trevor Hoffman's. “And he throws it in areas that the hitters bite on it.”

The firmer change-up can play well, he said.

“It works as a power-change,” Ausmus said. “When it’s harder and it has some depth (sinking action), it can get them more than a change in velocity. Velocity difference isn’t as important as making the arm speed and ball rotation look as much like a fastball as possible.”

While the Tigers travel to Jupiter, Fla., this weekend, Rodriguez will pitch to minor leaguers on the back fields. He will probably pitch three or four more times before Opening Day.

“Another positive outing,” Rodriguez said. “Just have to keep working.”