Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jerry's Plan For K-Rod

Francisco Rodriguez made his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game yesterday at Tradition Field after missing the first two weeks of the exhibition schedule due to a bad case of pinkeye.

He seemed fully recovered from the ordeal, needing only seven pitches to retire the Cardinals in order in the ninth inning.

K-Rod took the mound with orange-tinted wraparound glasses that he says he may continue to wear during the regular season. The glasses will allow him to pitch without contact lenses as he continues the healing process for his eyes.

Although Rodriguez's performance on the mound was a welcome sight, it was the comment made by Jerry Manuel (channeling his alter ego of Sesame Street character Guy Smiley) that drew my attention. According to Marty Noble's mlb.com article, Manuel stated that he will use K-Rod more in non-save situations, but will limit his pitch count to 15 in those situations.

As the Mets were falling apart (both literally and figuratively) in the second half of the 2009 season, Manuel could not find regular work for Rodriguez and was forced to use him in non-save situations. The sporadic appearances and the occasional high pitch count in those outings led to an inconsistent, if not poor second half for the Mets closer.

Manuel has finally realized that leaving Frankie in games too long when there was no save to be picked up was detrimental to his closer. He goes on to add:

"He appears to be a guy who loves to be on the mound on a regular basis. He's able to command his pitches better. He likes to perform. We didn't really give him the opportunity in the second half."

Kudos to Jerry Manuel for realizing something he should have already known. Closers always need regular work, but if you use them for 30 or more pitches in non-save situations, they may not be effective if you need them in an actual save situation the following day.

Case in point, on the morning of June 28, K-Rod's ERA stood at 1.01. He had made 35 appearances to that point and did not throw over 30 pitches in any of those outings. The Mets still had a winning record (37-36) and were very much alive in the NL East race, resting 1½ games behind the first place Phillies.

Then the wheels came off the wagon. Including their loss to the Yankees on June 28, the Mets went 33-56 the rest of the way. Frankie Rodriguez made another 35 appearances in that time. Unfortunately, not many of them were in save situations.

After never surpassing 30 pitches thrown in any of his first 35 appearances, he registered six such outings over his final 35 appearances, including two outings where he threw over 40 pitches.

Save situations were few and far in between and Frankie needed his work. Unfortunately, he was getting too much work in some of those appearances and it cost him in the ERA department (6.68 ERA over his final 35 appearances).

This year, if Jerry Manuel is true to his word, Rodriguez stands to have a much better season. A closer needs consistent work to maximize his effectiveness. That doesn't just mean pitching three or four times a week. It also means not having a seven-pitch appearance here and a 40-pitch appearance there.

There is no need to stretch Rodriguez past 15 pitches in non-save situations. He may be called upon to save the following night's game and must be as fresh as he possibly can for those games. After all, he's not getting paid over $12 million per year to be the mop-up guy. He's earning his dinero by closing the door on the opposition.

Francisco Rodriguez might be the one wearing the colored glasses, but it's Jerry Manuel who seemed to have the vision. Let's hope his plan for K-Rod remains in play for the entire season.

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