Fernando Rodriguez had one of the more impressive innings from an A’s reliever this season in their 2-1 loss Tuesday night, striking out the Colorado Rockies’ formidable 2-3-4 combination of Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez in order in the sixth.
Rodriguez retired Tulowitzki and Gonzalez each on three pitches, sandwiched around a 10-pitch battle with Arenado, the most recent National League Player of the Week. That at-bat was notable for how Rodriguez used his curveball – and how he didn’t.
The right-hander said he has been making an effort to throw his curveball more often, and after getting to 1-1 against Arenado, Rodriguez threw curveballs on three of the next four pitches. Arenado hit all three foul – including one that almost bounced in the dirt but that Arenado golfed about 375 feet down the left-field line.
Rodriguez said he was surprised by how far Arenado was able to hit the pitch. But he also remembered from the A’s scouting report that Arenado has been feasting on low off-speed pitches.
“The pitching report showed that that’s what he does, so I just didn’t show him that pitch again,” Rodriguez said. “I kept going away and going with what we had in mind.”
After running the count full, Rodriguez threw two cutters that Arenado fouled off before finishing Arenado off with a 95 mph fastball up and away. Arenado tipped the pitch into catcher Josh Phegley’s glove and screamed at himself as he walked back to the dugout.
“It could have been a ball,” Rodriguez said. “But I think the other pitches got him in swing mode.”
After getting ahead of Gonzalez 0-2, Rodriguez broke out the curveball again. This time he did bounce it, and Gonzalez swung over it for strike three. Rodriguez said Gonzalez is “a guy that’s looking for the fastball,” so he threw him a changeup – his least commonly used pitch – and breaking ball for the final two pitches of the at-bat.
When Rodriguez was first called up this season, he said he relied primarily on his fastball and that hitters quickly caught up. Pitching coach Curt Young and bullpen coach Scott Emerson told him he should throw the curveball more to stop hitters from sitting on the fastball, and Rodriguez said that has helped him over the past month. His ERA, which was 7.00 on May 24, is down to 4.15.
That’s not to say it’s a fail-safe pitch. Rodriguez paid for a poor curveball Tuesday when he got ahead of Brandon Barnes 0-2 with two outs in the seventh inning but left a pitch up that Barnes hit to right field for a single. That gave the Rockies runners on first and third and allowed Colorado to score its second run on Rodriguez’s ensuing wild pitch.
“It’s getting better,” Rodriguez said of the curveball. “Of all the ones that I threw well, I still threw one bad one that ended up giving up that hit, so it’s still kind of being able to really make sure I put it in the dirt when I want, especially 0-2 and 1-2 counts.
“But it’s been helping me a lot these last few weeks since I’ve been throwing it more, trying to get the hitters to not just think fastball the whole time. Being able to throw it for strikes is definitely helping me out.”
▪ The medical update on Sonny Gray before Wednesday’s game was that he’s suffering from severe gastroenteritis.
Manager Bob Melvin said Gray is still in the hospital and being treated with lots of fluids to make sure he’s hydrated. The hope is that Gray will be released late Wednesday or Thursday.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for him,” Melvin said. “This wasn’t a minor thing.”
The good news, Melvin said, is that nobody else in Gray’s family or on the team has been affected by the illness. Team doctor Allan Pont said the source of Gray’s illness has not been determined, but it did not come from the A’s clubhouse.
Melvin said the A’s will wait to see how Gray recovers before deciding when to re-insert him into the rotation. If Gray cannot make his next scheduled start Sunday, that will go to Chris Bassitt, who replaced Gray on short notice Tuesday night and allowed one run over five innings.
▪ Melvin got his first look at A’s first-round draft pick Richie Martin in person Tuesday and said he came away impressed. Martin visited the A’s after agreeing to terms on his deal and joined the team for batting practice.
“He looks like he’s got a chance to be a good player,” Melvin said. “Real fundamentally sound. You see right away as you watch him hit, he’s hitting the ball the other way, hitting the ball the other way with some authority.
“You watch his defensive actions, he’s quite far along fundamentally. From what it looks like to me, he’s got some arm strength. It looks like he’s got a lot of positives to him. We were excited about seeing him, and even more so after watching him yesterday.”