Eduardo Rodriguez felt like he made strides Tuesday night in not tipping his pitches. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO — The education of Eduardo Rodriguez is in full force.
Considering the results of his outing against the Blue Jays Tuesday night at Rogers Centre — in which the rookie pitcher allowed just one run over four hits over six innings in the Red Sox 4-3 win — some might have figured Rodriguez has figured out what plagued him in his previous start against the Orioles.
The issue that plagued Rodriguez against the Orioles — tipping his pitches with runners on base — didn’t seem totally fixed. While he did correct the glove position when in the stretch, which was different in his delivery depending on if he was pitching from the wind-up or the stretch — his head-tilt still offered a tell.
After a few innings, it was somewhat evident when Rodriguez was throwing anything other than a fastball when he looked to the ground instead of keeping in an upright position.
It was better, but not perfect … A work in progress.
“Working on all those four days before today. I tried to work on not tipping pitches to the hitters,” Rodriguez said. “Working in my bullpen, every time I threw the ball, I worked at that, so that’s what I did better today.”
“The last time he pitched we all got on him because he was tipping his pitches really bad,” said Red Sox DH David Ortiz on the Red Sox Radio Network following the Sox’ win. “We know he has that great stuff, but when you start tipping pitches hitters start eliminating pitches so it’s easier to hit. So in his case [Clay] Buchholz, myself, Panda [Sandoval], everybody was pretty much trying to him some ideas for his next outing. He executed really well, worked hard on it and he wasn’t tipping at all and that’s why he pitched the way he did tonight. … He was a different guy out there with the same stuff, which is what makes it tough to pitch off him.”
As Ortiz suggested, the process of identifying the issue started with two of Rodriguez’ rotation-mates, and evolved into a team-wide support system.
“It was one of those things where I think everybody at some point and time has had to deal with tipping, or think that you’re tipping and you’re getting hit around and wondering why,” explained Buchholz.
“In the midst of that one inning that Eduardo had the other day, it was me and Wade [Miley] sitting down in the batting cage watching TV and balls are getting hit hard. I think the one that set us off was the Chris Davis slider. It was a good slider away and he stayed on it and went the other way. You have to expect 96 or 97 and you’re staying back on a slider on a full count, left on left? It didn’t register. So we went in there and looked at it and found something that was not really blatantly obvious if you’re not looking for something, but as we sat down and started looking we found something that he was doing on every off-speed pitch and he wasn’t doing it on his fastball.
“At that time you couldn’t call timeout and tell him during the game because it all happened in one inning. So after the game I went up to him when he went on the bench and said, ‘After you cool down, come talk to me.’ He got in the clubhouse and told him, ‘Once you got in the stretch, they knew what you were throwing.’ It doesn’t matter how good your stuff is, if you tell big league hitters what you’re throwing there’s a good chance you’re going to get hit around.”
After the game against the Orioles (as was chronicled by WEEI.com’s Ryan Hannable at the time), Buchholz could be seen starting the process of fixing the issue. That carried over into the next few days.
“We made it a point to let him know it,” Buchholz said. “We watched video and showed him what was going on. He had no idea that he was doing anything wrong or anything different on any one pitch. These last four days that’s all he’s been talking about is working on it. He’s been the hotel room in front of a mirror he’s been working on it. He did a good job on it today. Especially a team like that, if you’re letting him know or giving them a hint what’s coming or what’s not coming, it’s not going to be a fun day at the park. He did a really good job with the adjustment.”
Buchholz understands that just because you’re aware that pitches are being tipped, doesn’t make it automatic that the problem is going to immediately be rectified.
It was a lesson he learned as a rookie when Red Sox infielder Alex Cora informed Buchholz that he was flaring his glove a certain way for certain pitches. Since then he has altered the presentation of the glove, although reverting back to an ineffective form is usually inevitable.
As the veteran righty explained, it’s just another thing to worry about for a rookie pitcher who already has his fill of big league concerns.
“The one thing was that we didn’t want him to think about it because the first couple of outings he threw really well. But we knew something was off and nobody could really put a finger on it,” Buchholz said.
“I told him before he went out for the first inning, ‘Don’t think about anything, just go out and throw.’ You can’t go out there and think about it because that’s not how this game works. You can’t be thinking about not being able to do this or that. You just have to just let it go whenever you’re out there. The times you think about is in between starts, the next day when you’re playing catch. In the bullpen do the same thing. And he did a really good job with it.”