Rodriguez ready for Futures stage
Ports right-hander is re-establishing his command
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- At the start of the season, Henry Rodriguez was on top of the world. He was one of the brightest stars in the Oakland Athletics organization and had claimed the No. 2 slot in the Class A Advanced Stockton Ports' starting rotation. He was ready to take the Minor Leagues by storm and prove just how nasty his stuff truly was.
So it was only natural for Rodriguez, a confident Venezuelan with the talent to match, to turn scouts' heads by dashing out to a quick start. In his first two starts of the season, Rodriguez justified the hype. The hurler went 1-0 in 11 innings, allowed just one run and struck out 16 opposing batters.
"I was just feeling good [at the beginning of the season] and working hard," said a soft-spoken Rodriguez through a translator. "I was just working hard every day, and it really helped me."
Just a few months later, Rodriguez finds himself joining this year's World roster at the 2008 All-Star Futures Game on July 13 at Yankee Stadium.
"I feel so happy because I am going to get to play in a big-league ballpark," said Rodriguez, who has the ability to throw a 100-mph fastball. "I just can't explain how happy I am."
Though this weekend's Futures Game is just around the corner for Rodriguez, undoubtedly one of the highlights of his young career, he can't help but think back to the tough times he's had this season. For Rodriguez, 2008 has been far from easy.
While the first month of the season may have seemed like a dream, Rodriguez soon received a brutal wake-up call. The pitcher's early success seemed to prove that the California League couldn't contain him, and just under a month into the season he was promoted to the Midland RockHounds of the Double-A Texas League.
Though the best news for any prospect is a call-up to the next level, Rodriguez struggled mightily with the RockHounds. In nine starts for Midland, Rodriguez went 1-6 with an 8.82 ERA.
"He was just trying to do too much," said Ports manager Darren Bush of Rodriguez's performance in Double-A. "Any time that happens you are going to run into trouble. I definitely don't think it set him back. It is experience for anybody and it's good for guys to get it handed to them once in a while, because it makes them realize and say, 'Wait a second.'"
The hitters Rodriguez faced in Double-A were more talented and disciplined than any he'd faced before. Though he had all the arm strength in the world, his control suffered. In 33 2/3 innings, Rodriguez walked 36 batters.
While Bush is confident that Rodriguez has the physical talent to play with the best in Double-A, he wonders whether he was mentally prepared to move forward. Rodriguez concurs, pointing to mental lapses as the source of many of his troubles at Midland.
"The hitters got better and stopped swinging at pitches in the dirt and things like that, and that really got to me," Rodriguez said.
Midland kept him on board for almost two months. In early June, however, the right-hander found himself where he started the season -- Stockton.
The only thing for Rodriguez to do back in the California League was to continue the hard work. The result? In his six starts since retuning to the Ports, he has allowed more than three earned runs just once. His ERA is back under three (2.96) and glimpses of greatness are reappearing.
So while Rodriguez's experience this season hasn't always been the most fun, the Futures Game this weekend will be an experience of a lifetime for the pitcher. "Playing in Yankee Stadium is everyone's dream," Rodriguez said. "I am so happy I will get to play there."
Bush is happy for his pitcher. "He has very good stuff," Bush explained. "And to go along with that, he is a competitor, and that's a good mix."
Ari Wasserman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.