Inserted as the team’s closer following spring training, Rodney is holding down one of the most high-pressured positions in all of sports.
When he enters a game, many times the Tigers are clinging to a one- or two-run lead and it is his job to be the man that shuts down the other team’s comeback attempt. For Rodney, one bad pitch could eliminate everything his teammates had fought for in the first eight innings to bring them into a position where three ninth-inning outs could lead to a valued victory.
Like any athlete entrusted with such an important position, Rodney said he relishes each opportunity to help his team win a game.
“I’m so prideful being the team’s closer,” Rodney said. “Everything I do I try to do the best I can for my teammates. Every time I come into the game I try to make my pitches. I do not think about the situation. You see how important your job is but I put no pressure on myself.”
The first-place Tigers are in a battle for their playoff lives as the second half of the season is now underway.
One of the team’s first-half problems – scoring runs – is still a big question mark. The Tigers scored only five runs over the weekend as the Yankees
swept them in a three-game series in New York (including back-to-back 2-1 losses Saturday and Sunday).
Thus, the team’s success will most surely rest on the ability of the pitching staff to continue to provide the squad with win opportunities. So far Rodney has performed above and beyond expectations. Sure he has had a few roller coaster moments (similar to Todd Jones the last few years).
But the fact of the matter is he has converted all 19 of his save opportunities while posting a 3.92 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 39 innings.
“I’m not surprised he has done what he’s done,” Tigers President/General Manager Dave Dombrowski said. “He has the ability, the fastball and the changeup. His whole key is throwing strikes and staying healthy. No doubt he’s got closer stuff. Sure he keeps you on the edge of your seat sometimes but there are very few that do not.”
Added Manager Jim Leyland: “I always felt Rodney could get the job done for us. The last couple years he has been fighting injuries and that has hurt his progress. But he has come on this year and has been a solid closer for us.”
Rodney, now in his seventh season with the Tigers, has almost always been a setup man. However, coming into the 2009 campaign he knew the team needed a closer following the retirement of Todd Jones last year.
“I kind of knew when (Todd) Jones retired that I’d get a shot at it,” Rodney said. “But I did not play it up at all. I told myself if Leyland calls me in late or early I’d be ready to help this team win games.”
Rodney, born in Samana, Dominican Republic, barely spoke English when he first came to the Tigers. He said he’s learned to speak by listening to his friends and other family members. He also noted that he started taking baseball seriously at about age 14 after watching a number of Dominican players signed with MLB teams.
“I had to make a deal with my mother to give baseball a try,” Rodney explained. “I was supposed to go to university but I asked her to give me one year to try it and it has worked out so far.”
Not only has it worked out for Rodney, but for the Tigers as well. Now Rodney and the Tigers will have to continue that trend the second half of the season if they expect to earn a playoff spot.
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