Tigers' Rodriguez takes another positive step

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — Manager Brad Ausmus has said this from the minute he took the closer’s job away from Francisco Rodriguez, and he said it again after new closer Justin Wilson struck out the side to save the 4-3 win Saturday night:

“We are going to be at our best when we have Frankie Rodriguez back and pitching well at the back end of our bullpen.”

Whether that ever ends up being the ninth inning again remains to be seen. But Rodriguez seems to be on a gradual road to recovery.

“He looked good,” Ausmus said of Rodriguez’s two-strikeout outing Sunday. “That’s two good outings in a row so, moving forward.”

Rodriguez, with his fastball hitting 91 mph, struck out C.J. Cron looking and Danny Espinoza swinging, in between a walk and stolen base by Cameron Maybin in the eighth inning. His stuff was as crisp as it’s been this season.

“The more I pitch, the better I am going to feel,” said Rodriguez, the game’s active saves leader. “No one gets better just sitting down in the ’pen and watching.”

Rodriguez believes he’s solved a mechanical malfunction that was causing his signature change-up to flatten out up in the strike zone.

“It was my release point,” he said. “I have to make sure everything I throw is out front and I am finishing my pitches. When you finish your pitches, they have more life on it. When you aren’t, when you are around the ball and you don’t finish, that’s when it stays flat over the plate.”

It’s still a small sample size, but progress is progress.

“It’s been a rough time,” Rodriguez said. “But I cannot be making excuses and thinking of doing this or that differently. Just get big-league hitters out the way I should do, the way that I have been doing for years.

“I think I am in the right position now. Now I know everything is behind me — all that stuff is behind me.”

Being run on

Catcher James McCann has one of the best throwing arms in the game, and the last two years he was among the American League leaders in throwing out would-be base stealers.

This year, it’s been a different story. The Tigers have given up 22 stolen bases this season, including five by the Angels on Sunday. Opponents have stolen 10 straight off the Tigers, nine while McCann has been catching.

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“It’s frustrating,” McCann said. “It’s something I take a lot of pride in and something we have to do a better job of.”

It’s not all on McCann, of course. The vast majority of stolen bases are the result of runners getting good jumps off the pitcher. On Sunday, there were three bases clearly stolen off the pitcher and the other two McCann’s throw was tardy or slightly off the mark.

“I asked Mac and he said a couple of times I gave him time,” said Justin Verlander, who was on the mound for four of the five steals. “Mac is so good at throwing guys out, it just wasn’t quite where he wanted it.

“But that wasn’t the issue. How they got on base was the issue.”

Verlander walked five and hit one.

Former Tiger Cameron Maybin walked three times and stole three bases — becoming the first Angels player to record three walks and three steals in the same game.

Around the horn

After hitting four straight balls that were caught at the wall or on the warning track Friday and Saturday, Nick Castellanos was finally rewarded for a hard-hit ball. His one-hop smash went through second baseman Danny Espinosa in the first inning and drove home Ian Kinsler from second. “It is what it is,” said Castellanos, who has one of the highest hard-hit rates in the game and is batting just .234. “It’d be nice to look up and see .300 (on the scoreboard) but it’s baseball. Hopefully they will start falling in the second half – like in September, October, November.”

... The Tigers are now 1-9 when they fail to hit a home run (17-9 when they hit at least one).

… The Tigers have scored 29 runs from the seventh inning on. That is worst in the American League.

Twitter @cmccosky