Tigers' Ronny Rodriguez capitalizing on long-awaited opportunity

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Ronny Rodriguez leads the Tigers with six home runs and ranks second with 19 RBIs this season.

Detroit — Maybe opponents have found how to slow down Ronny Rodriguez.

Maybe pitchers have found his weakness, a flaw they can attack and neutralize Rodriguez’s ability to hit.

Maybe it’ll last, maybe it will not. If you’ve watched Rodriguez this season with the Tigers, hacking away and not getting cheated on any of his swings, you know he’s not going to go down easy.

One of the Tigers’ bright spots this season, Rodriguez has cooled in recent days — he was out of the lineup Saturday in New York as a recent slump continued — but he still leads the team with six home runs, is tied for the team lead with three triples, is second with 19 RBIs and ranks third with nine doubles.

He also leads the team in slugging percentage (.545) but the batting average has steadily declined in recent days, down to .250 entering Saturday from a high of .312 last week.

But Rodriguez didn’t seem troubled earlier in the week. Years of overcoming anything and everything in the minors have hardened him.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” Rodriguez said of his current situation with the Tigers. “I’ve been waiting for the chance. I’ve been doing the best I can on the field, and trying to help the team win.”

Waiting for this opportunity might be an understatement.

Rodriguez isn’t a prospect anymore by most people’s definition. He’s 27 and has spent nine years in the minor leagues, totaling a staggering 834 games.

When Rodriguez broke his wrist in 2015 in Double-A and missed significant playing time, there was a moment of doubt as to whether his major league dream would ever come true.

But Rodriguez refocused and kept doing what he does best, swinging a bat with everything he has. He wound up hitting .291 with 17 home runs in 2017 for Columbus, the Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A affiliate.

“Man, he can swing the bat,” Tigers pitcher Matt Boyd said after Rodriguez’s three-hit game helped defeat the Los Angeles Angels earlier this month. “I played against him in the minors. Everyone knows he could always hit, but unfortunately he had some guys ahead of him in Cleveland.

“I’m real happy for him.”

The Indians were stacked at the big league level and chose not to bring him back. Rodriguez wound up signing with the Tigers in December 2017 and has been a pleasant surprise.

Rodriguez began the season in Toledo last year but wound up being promoted and playing in 62 games, hitting .220 with five home runs and 20 RBIs.

Entering Saturday's game in New York, Ronny Rodriguez led the Tigers with a .545 slugging percentage.

In competition for a utility job out of spring training, Rodriguez again saw himself land in Toledo.

But injuries on the Tigers’ roster earned Rodriguez a promotion with which he hasn’t looked back on.

“He’s really playing, really swinging, getting a lot of hits,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s a big pick-us-up. He came up and we put him in the middle of it.”

That's all Rodriguez has ever wanted on the major league level, similar to so many veterans who’ve spent many years toiling in the minors.

A chance.

“I wasn’t upset,” Rodriguez said of his return to Toledo this spring. “I showed I can play. I said ‘Thank you’ and I’m going to Triple-A and show I can play (there).

“I live day by day. I don’t know (any other way). I just wait for my opportunity and do the best I can.”

Rodriguez credits a tip he got from Tigers Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, now a part of the front office, in spring training that has sparked Rodriguez this season.

Rodriguez has moved his front foot closer to the plate in the batter’s box.

“When I step up in the box, I land on the line,” Rodriguez said. “It’s something that has really helped me.”

Along with the offense, Rodriguez provides the Tigers’ roster with the enthusiasm and energy that will likely be needed in what is shaping to be a long, difficult season.

Rodriguez can often be found with a smile walking around the clubhouse, and in conversation with teammates anywhere in the room.

 “He’s one those guys that lifts everybody up,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a lot of fun.”


Twitter: @tkulfan