The first time the Texas Rangers’ coaching staff saw Ricky Rodriguez pitch in a game was in the right-hander’s MLB debut during the last homestand.
The coaches never bumped into him around the spring-training complex in Surprise, Ariz., though it had been his second home following Tommy John surgery. He was never a just-in-case pitcher used to finish off a spring inning.
After five career appearances, it seems the Rangers’ coaches will be seeing plenty of Rodriguez as the season winds down and in future seasons.
Rodriguez closed out the Rangers’ 3-0 win Thursday night, buzzing through three Los Angeles Angels hitters en route to his first career save. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, Rodriguez can suddenly be seen in the late innings.
“That means something good for me,” Rodriguez said. “I only try to do my job in any situation they put me. The fifth, sixth or seventh inning, I’m trying to do the same. I don’t feel nervous. I don’t show emotions. For me, it’s part of my job.”
Rodriguez opened the season at Class A Down East after missing most of the past two seasons because of Tommy John surgery. He was promoted to Double A Frisco and continued to dominate hitters.
The Rangers purchased his contract Aug. 8 and made his first appearance six days later, needing only 12 pitches for a 1-2-3 seventh inning that included two strikeouts. The only run he has allowed as an inside-the-park homer Aug. 18.
He has stuff, including a fastball that topped out at 96 mph, but also a great deal of composure for a rookie.
“We’ve got a young kid out there who has been throwing the ball well, has been throwing strikes, and looks the part,” manager Jeff Banister said. “There’s an element of trust. If he doesn’t get it done, it’s on me. He was fun to watch.”
Alex Claudio and Tony Barnette, who earned his first career save Wednesday, were unavailable. Claudio is the preferred choice for the ninth inning, and confidence is building in Barnette after a sluggish first half.
With Matt Bush (knee) and Keone Kela (shoulder) shut down, and with Jose Leclerc struggling to find the strike zone, Rodriguez will be seen late in games.
“That was an opportunity for me,” he said. “I’ll take it.”