It has been a long time coming.
After all, Rodriguez ghosted the Tigers for one month in the middle of the season because of a marital issue. Manager A.J. Hinch, amid a sensitive situation in Rodriguez’s personal life, connected with the ex-Boston Red Sox pitcher, put any frustration aside and fully supported his Opening Day starter.
Hinch and Rodriguez broke the ice before the All-Star break, then had their latest of many conversations Wednesday. After two starts for Triple-A Toledo, Rodriguez is coming back to the big leagues.
“I spent a significant amount of time on the phone with him,” Hinch said. “He’s doing great and is preparing himself to start for us this weekend.”
Now, Rodriguez must communicate with his teammates.
The 29-year-old left-hander will meet with Hinch in Detroit on Thursday and return to the Tigers’ clubhouse Friday for the three-game series with the Angels. The details of Rodriguez’s absence are unclear — and that’s probably for the best — but he is expected to address his teammates and coaches upon his arrival.
So, how do his teammates feel?
For starters, they’re not upset with Rodriguez.
“If he feels like he needs to address something, we all have questions,” catcher Eric Haase said, “but at the same time, it’s none of our business. We want to welcome him back here. He’s part of the team. Hopefully, he can fit back in, hit that groove and just go forward from there.”
Rodriguez signed a five-year, $77 million contract in November 2021, with an opt-out clause after next season, after spending the first six seasons of his MLB career with the Red Sox. In 2019, he took the mound 34 times, pitched more than 200 innings, walked 75 batters and struck out 213.
The Tigers were hoping for similar results from Rodriguez in 2022 as the franchise aimed to compete for a spot in the postseason.
Neither of those things happened.
“He’s obviously a huge part of what we want to do going forward,” Haase said. “He’s going to be here for a long time, so we want to feel like he’s a guy that we can count on. Hopefully, he’s in a good spot.”
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Rodriguez has a 4.38 ERA with 17 walks and 34 strikeouts in 39 innings across eight starts. He made his last big-league appearance May 18 against the Tampa Bay Rays and landed on the injured list May 22 with a left ribcage sprain.
A June 9 rehab start for Triple-A Toledo lined up Rodriguez to rejoin Detroit’s rotation for his next start, but on June 13, the Tigers placed him on the restricted list — he went unpaid and didn’t accrue service time — for a personal issue.
The club wasn’t sure if or when he would return.
“I don’t know what everybody goes through,” second baseman Jonathan Schoop said. “I don’t want to get too deep into that. Thank God he’s coming back to play with us. I hope everything went well and everything is good with him. We welcome him back, and we’re going to move forward.”
Rodriguez forfeited $74,866 in salary for each day he spent on the restricted list (prorated from his $14 million salary this season). His activation Friday will end his time on the restricted list at 67 days. He relinquished approximately $5 million.
At the time of Rodriguez’s departure, the Tigers owned a 24-35 record, sat 9½ games out of first place in the American League Central and felt optimistic about a turnaround. Since then, however, the Tigers are 21-39, falling to last in the AL Central, 18 games out.
“It was kind of tough,” Haase said. “He was on the injured list before that, so we assumed that we were going to get him back in the short term. Then, we didn’t know if the injury was worse or what was going on. When they put him on the restricted list, and it ended up being a family matter, it was like, ‘OK, we might not see him for a little while.'”
The silence ensued until mid-July.
After making contact, Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter designed a throwing program for Rodriguez. He trained at a facility in South Florida before transitioning to Lakeland, Florida — home of the Tigers’ spring training complex — for team-supervised work.
Rodriguez pitched in three minor league games: Aug. 6 for Low-A Lakeland and Aug. 11 and Aug. 16 for Triple-A Toledo. For the Mud Hens, he allowed one run on six hits and two walks with 17 strikeouts over 11 innings.
On Tuesday, Rodriguez struck out 11 batters and threw 72 pitches.
“I’ve played with Eduardo for a long time, since the (Arizona) Fall League (in 2013),” Schoop said. “We go way back. It’s going to be the same. He’s going to be the same Eduardo, and he’s going to help us win. He’s a really good pitcher. We got him for a reason.”
As Rodriguez returns, the focus will eventually shift to his performance on the mound in preparation for the 2023 season. He is lined up to start against Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani on Sunday, in what could be a marquee matchup.
Before that happens, though, Rodriguez needs to clear the air with his teammates and brave what is guaranteed to be an awkward meeting with reporters. Those won’t be easy conversations for an already-guarded Rodriguez.
“I’m going to wait and see how he approaches it,” Haase said. “He’s going through something that’s non-baseball related, so having a family and a wife and kids, I can respect that. There are things that are bigger than baseball. Hopefully, he had all that worked out. ”
His teammates, like Hinch, seem to fully support him.
“We got to welcome him back with open arms,” Schoop said. “He’s our teammate. He’s family. And he’s going to help us win.”