Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Eddy Rodriguez, 2005 Upper Deck Artifacts #119
In 2004, Rodriguez was a 22-year-old righthander from the Dominican Republic. He'd been climbing the ranks of the Oriole farm system since 2000, and had posted a 2.34 ERA and a team-high 13 saves for AA Bowie in 2003. He was struggling to adjust to AAA Ottawa, however; his ERA in 28 relief appearances was 5.12, and he had a WHIP of 1.64. Still, he had a strong right arm, and more often than not that's good enough for the post-Ripken Orioles. The Birds promoted him to the big leagues amidst a flurry of late-May transactions, just two days after designating future home run king Jose Bautista for assignment. (Ouch.)
Eddy made his debut in a Memorial Day matinee at Fenway Park, replacing the legendary Darwin Cubillan with runners on the corners and nobody out in the seventh inning. Two runs were in for Boston with the heart of their order due up, but a 10-3 O's lead made it a pretty low-leverage situation anyhow. I'm not sure the rookie would agree as he stared in at his first big league batter, David Ortiz. He quickly fell behind 3-0 to Big Papi, but battled back to a full count before getting a swinging strike three with his seventh pitch. From there, he faced Manny Ramirez, batting a mere .355 entering the game. Again, the count ran full, and again, the result was a swinging strikeout. Finally, Jason Varitek flew out to center field to end the inning. The Orioles collected a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the frame, and Rodriguez took the mound for a second inning of work. Kevin Millar solved the youngster with a home run to lead off, and Boston got another couple of runners on base, but Eddy coaxed a double play grounder and punctuated his debut with a called strike three on Johnny Damon. Mike DeJean (yuck) took over in the ninth inning to sew up a 12-4 Baltimore win.
Eddy made enough of an impression to stick around throughout the summer. When he earned his first big league win with 3 shutout frames in a 15-inning slog in Philadelphia on July 2, the rookie had a 2.18 ERA with 20 strikeouts through his first 20.2 innings. Of course, he also had 14 walks. Major league hitters caught up to Rodriguez after the All-Star break, as he gave up 18 runs in 22.2 innings for an unsightly 7.15 ERA. He also walked 16 against 17 strikeouts. For the season, he wound up with a 4.78 ERA in 29 games. Sadly, his professional career had already peaked. He spent all of 2005 and much of 2006 back in Ottawa, and was hit hard in two short stints with the Orioles in 2006 (7.20 ERA in 15 total innings). Two ugly outings with the Dodgers' AAA Albuquerque club in 2007 represented the end of Rodriguez's time in affiliated pro ball, and according to the Baseball Reference Bullpen Wiki he had a short and equally unsuccessful tenure with Bologna in the Italian Baseball League in 2009.
But despite the fact that his career was done before age 30 and he hasn't thrown a pitch in this country in half a decade, I still remember the excitement that I felt in watching Eddy Rodriguez baffle the soon-to-be world champions on a Monday afternoon 8 years ago. Small sample sizes may be a lousy way to judge a player's worth, but they still make the game fun.