Minneapolis — A couple of weeks ago, he was drawing unflattering comparisons to Joe Nathan and Jose Valverde. He was the next victim of Detroit’s closer curse.
It was an unfair and premature reaction at the time and now, well, it just seems silly.
News flash: Closer Francisco Rodriguez, but for two bad outings, has been virtually unhittable.
He blew a save on Opening Day, allowing three runs and four hits in a game the Tigers won in extra innings. Fifteen days after that in Kansas City, he gave up back to back home runs but still hung on for the save.
Here are his numbers in his nine other appearances: 7 2/3 innings, 0 runs, 3 hits, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 6 saves in 6 opportunities — including the final three outs Sunday in the Tigers' 6-5 win over the Twins.
In his four appearances since the Kansas City game, all coming after he missed a week tending to a family emergency, he’s allowed only two hits with four strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings.
“He’s proven,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “He knows what to do. He’s been in situations, tough situations and that’s what you want — a guy who has been there and done it.”
Rodriguez, in his 15th season and the game’s active saves leader with 393, has a doctorate in the art of pitching. He has completely transformed himself from a power pitcher to one who relies on guile, a wicked assortment of off-speed pitches and the ability to read hitters' swings and spot the ball accordingly.
He’s also adept at reading himself. And after giving up the two home runs in Kansas City, he knew something was off. All it took was a quick video review to spot the problem.
“It was the release point, more than anything,” he said. “The mechanics were off a little bit. You want to try to make the hitters see everything coming out of the same spot. I was starting to throw my fastball from a three-quarter arm slot and the change-up I was throwing over the top.
“Hitters can pick that up, they can see that.”
By correcting that, the fastball not only was coming out of the same arm slot as his off-speed pitches, but it was firmer (89-90 mph) and it had movement. It wasn’t as flat as it had been.
“Every pitch you can feel,” he said. “You can feel how you miss. How the ball moves. How the ball feels off your fingertips means you are pushing it. And when you are pushing it, you have no control.
“When you finish (bringing your arm all the way through the pitch), you get more command and you can guide the ball a lot better.”
It was evident in his early outings that hitters were sitting on his off-speed pitches. Rodriguez said that wasn’t anything new or different. What was different was his inability to counter that with an effective fastball.
If hitters want to sit on the change-up now, he can make them pay.
“Right now he is getting a really good angle on his fastball,” Saltalamacchia said. “Which is making hitters swing at the change-up. And he’s able to work the slider in, too, to keep that good mix. The hitters don’t know exactly what he’s going to throw.”