Tigers notes: With WBC looming, Eduardo Rodriguez keeps focus forward

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Eduardo Rodriguez wasn’t going there. He wasn’t going to drag last year’s drama into this season.

He was asked Monday if, after all the events of last season, he felt a sense of peace coming into this spring.

“I can’t say peace,” he said. “It’s just another year, just another season. I feel great in every way — body-wise, mental-wise. All in all, I can’t wait to start spring training and get ready for the season.”

He was asked if it felt somewhat like a fresh start?

“No, not even a fresh start,” he said. “Just another year.”

After signing a five-year, $77 million deal to lead the Tigers’ young pitching staff, Rodriguez ended up making just 17 starts. First, he spent time on the injured list with a rib injury and then, just as he was about to return, he left the team to deal with marital issues.

He was placed on the restricted (unpaid leave of absence) list and was gone from May 18 to Aug. 21.

But that was then. He has since reconciled with his wife, the family is together and Rodriguez, who turns 30 on April 7, is ready to get on with things.

“Eduardo is ahead of where he would normally be right now because of the WBC,” manager AJ Hinch said, referencing Rodriguez’s selection to Team Venezuela for the World Baseball Classic. “He’s spent a lot of time on his body in the offseason and spent a lot of time throwing. We will probably have to slow him down based on where he is physically coming into camp.”

Good luck with that.

“I would say since the day I was born in Venezuela I was waiting for this opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “Always in my mind, I was going to be ready to go pitch until they told me I was going to make the roster. And I got that call last month. But I was always ready for that call.”

WBC aside, this is a big year for Rodriguez on another front. He can opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Not only can he help his own leverage on the free market, he can potentially pitch himself onto a contending team by the trade deadline — if the Tigers were so inclined to flip him.

“I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “I just signed last year. I’m just going to keep working, keep playing baseball. I like the way Detroit handled everything, especially with what happened last year. I’m thankful for them. So I don’t think anything about (the opt-out).”

Last man in

Prospect Colt Keith had a very valid reason for being the last player to report to camp. He was working.

“I was getting live at-bats in Biloxi (Mississippi),” he said. “I had a lifting routine and a sprinting routine with different coaches, an Olympic track coach. I really wanted to finish my routine and my program. And with the live at-bats, I prioritized those over being a few days early to camp just because I know I wouldn’t get many at-bats going into spring games.

“And I want to be ready.”

Olympic track coach? Keith hooked up with Brian O’Neill, who coached at Ole Miss and Florida before being hired by the U.S. Olympic team.

“His son and daughter go to my old high school,” he said. “He’s incredible with sprint mechanics, quickness, getting faster side to side and with hip mobility. He wore me out.”

Some of the training showed up during drill work at third base Monday. He drew raves from coach Alfredo Amezaga, ranging far to his left on one ball and making a diving stop.

“I’ve been working a ton on my defense,” he said.

Keith, 21 and the No. 6-ranked Tigers prospect by MLB Pipeline, came back from a shoulder injury last year to hit .301, slug .544 with a .914 OPS in 48 games at High-A West Michigan. He followed that up by hitting .344 and slugging .541 in 19 games in the Arizona Fall League.

And yet, he’s tweaking his hitting mechanics — swapping out his leg kick for a toe-tap.

“I had a bunch of conversations with a bunch of coaches, even at the fall league with guys from other organizations,” he said. “No one was saying you need to do this. They were just giving me suggestions from their experience. I just took their advice, working on stuff and seeing how it goes.

“I can always go back.”

His work in the weight room seemed to pay off, as well. He’s come into his first big-league camp at 230 pounds, down from 245 at the end of last season.

Bullish on Turnbull

Among those wowed by Spencer Turnbull’s bullpen session Friday was president Scott Harris.

“We’re really excited about him; he’s nasty,” Harris said. “The amount of contrast he can create with his pitch shapes is pretty unique in the big leagues. He feels great. His stuff is coming out of his arm. He’s on an excellent routine that will prepare his body to pitch every fifth day.”

Turnbull is returning to the rotation after missing the last 20 months recovering from Tommy John surgery.

“He’s going to be a priority for us this spring,” Harris said. “We’ve got to make sure he stays strong and healthy because we know the stuff is plenty good enough.”

Around the horn

Infield prospect Wenceel Perez did not participate in the drills Monday. He is still working through back inflammation.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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