San Diego — The end often comes suddenly, even for the great ones.
That was the case with Tigers reliever Francisco Rodriguez. The game’s fourth all-time saves leader, he posted 44 saves for the Tigers last year and, between 2013 and 2016, made 126 saves with a save percentage of over 90.
This year, though, was an unmitigated disaster from the start, going back to his sub-standard performance for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. And as it turned out, the grand slam home run he gave up to the Seattle Mariners’ Robinson Cano Thursday night was the final blow.
The Tigers on Friday released the 16-year veteran. They will pay off the remainder of his $6 million contract.
“It had to be done, in our opinion,” general manager Al Avila said. “We're still trying to win games and obviously, he wasn't getting the job done. It was difficult because he's a long-tenured guy and he's had a long, good career.
“We tried everything. I know there was a lot of criticism toward Brad for putting him in there. Quite frankly, what we were trying to do is get him better. It's either you release him or, you can't just keep him on the bench not doing anything in the bullpen. You've got to try and work through it. We tried everything. It just didn't work out."
Rodriguez lost his closer's role in May, then went public with his dismay at being relegated to mop-up duty in the Tigers bullpen on June 13. Since making those comments to The Detroit News, he allowed seven runs in 4 2/3 innings, including two home runs while pitching in somewhat higher-leverage situations. He has allowed nine home runs in 25 1/3 innings this season.
“He was a great mentor to a lot of guys on this team, not just the bullpen guys,” Justin Verlander said. “He was a leader. He showed guys the right way to play the game, the right way to act in the locker room, the right way to treat teammates, the right way to reprimand teammates — he led by example.
“It’s sad to see him go.”
Both Verlander and Ian Kinsler scoffed at the notion that Rodriguez was released to send a message to the team.
“I hope not,” Verlander said. “It’s not right to send a message with someone’s career. I hope the decision was made for what they feel is in the best interests of the team moving forward.”
Avila said exactly that.
"It was difficult to tell him,” Avila said. “But at the same time, we need to move on and hopefully to bigger and better things."
Said Kinsler: “As far as that sending a message, that’s out of the question. If you are in here and you need a message sent to you, you are in the wrong place.”
Rodriguez was informed of his release Friday morning in San Diego.
“He took it hard,” Avila said. “He was apologetic. He said he was sorry he couldn't get it done. He wants to win as much as anybody and he wants to do it as much as anybody. He just couldn't get it done. He felt really bad about it.
“But he was very professional.”
These last 28 games should not, and will not, obscure all that Rodriguez accomplished in the other 920 big-league games he pitched in. He has 437 career saves — only Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith saved more games in the history of the game.
“I wish Frankie the best,” Verlander said. “I still think he’s got a good career in front of him and he’s had a great career behind him. I don’t think he’s done. I think he’s just hit a rough patch and hasn’t had enough time to work his way through it.”
The Tigers recalled Bruce Rondon from Toledo to take Rodriguez’s spot in the bullpen. Rondon, who gave up six runs and four hits in 1 1/3 innings with the Tigers in April, has slowly begun to come around for the Mud Hens.
In his last 10 outings he allowed two earned runs in 10 innings, with 12 strikeouts and three walks. His fastball velocity has still fluctuated from 94-96 mph, then on other nights back up to upper-90s.
The Tigers also made an outfield transaction Friday. Alex Presley was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list after he ran full speed into the center field wall at Safeco Field Thursday night.
To take his spot on the active roster, the Tigers recalled veteran Matt den Dekker from Toledo. The 29-year-old has played parts of four seasons with the Mets and Nationals. He was hitting .269 with a .376 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage at Toledo.
He is a left-handed hitter who will likely get some starts in center field against right-handed pitching.