E-Rod wants to be in PitchCom driver’s seat

Detroit Tigers

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Eduardo Rodriguez looked for a second like he might be having issues with his belt as the Tigers left-hander felt around his left hip before his first pitch against the Phillies Friday afternoon.

Once it became clear he was the latest Tigers pitcher to experiment with the new PitchCom system that lets pitchers call pitches, it looked like a button might be stuck.

Rodriguez threw 10 consecutive fastballs to begin his second outing of the spring, reaching for the PitchCom controller as soon as he got the ball. He had a clear idea of how he wanted to settle in.

“I just tried to establish myself, not just establish the fastball,” he said after Detroit’s 6-3 win over Philadelphia. “It’s feeling myself on the right path with all my pitches, and I know if I feel the right way with the fastball, I’m going to feel the right way with the rest of the pitches.”

With three scoreless innings completed, allowing one hit with three strikeouts, he had results. Rodriguez worked in the rest of his arsenal soon enough. It was a solid effort, but also a seemingly solid comfort level with new technology for a veteran pitcher who likes the idea of calling his own game.

“I’m calling my own pitches, and if [the catcher] doesn’t like the pitch that I’m going to throw, he’ll just call me back,” Rodriguez said. “But it feels more comfortable for me to call the pitch that I want to throw, because I have so much confidence in it. But if the catcher sees something, he can just tell me right away. 

“I feel like those pitches are the ones I feel really good about that day warming up. I feel like I’m the one who knows myself more than anybody, and if some pitches aren’t working the right way that day, and the catcher’s calling it … you’re not going to throw it with the same confidence. That’s what I feel is going to make me better, because I’m going to call the pitch that I really feel comfortable with.”

Rodriguez is the second Tigers starter to use the controller. Matthew Boyd wore it Thursday, but said he only used it on a few pitches in situations where he knew what he wanted to throw and didn’t want to wait for the catcher to call it. Another Tigers starter, Spencer Turnbull, was curious about it earlier this spring.

“It’s not something that I feel strongly about, that we should implement, but we’ll play with it,” manager A.J. Hinch said after Boyd’s outing. “You have to practice with it first. We’re not going to roll it out in a game until these guys do something [with it] in the bullpen.”

Hinch reserved comment on Rodriguez calling pitches until they could discuss it on Saturday.

Rodriguez tried it in his bullpen session after watching Max Scherzer and Luis Severino work with it in their recent starts. The system gives Rodriguez a chance to set his own pace, which was usually brisk even before the new rules.

“Today was more to see if I was keeping the same pace,” he said, “and I feel like it was the same pace. For me, it was just figuring out what exactly is the right pace, get my right settings and know exactly what is the right button to press. That’s something I need to work on, because if I have the right one, it’s just quicker. I don’t have to press twice or three times.”

That said, it wasn’t a regular-season game mix. Rodriguez threw all fastballs to Trea Turner, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto before throwing cutters to Nick Castellanos. For the second inning, Rodriguez went with all sliders in a lefty-lefty matchup with Brandon Marsh before going with fastballs and cutters for the rest of the inning. 

Once Rodriguez faced Turner one more time in the third inning, he went with changeups and sinkers.

“I feel confident with the pitches,” he said. “I feel that’s the right pitch to throw. The other part of it is I feel if I’m throwing a pitch and somebody hits a homer, it’s my pitch. I called that. The catcher doesn’t have to feel bad. I’ll take everything myself because I’m the one that called that pitch. But the way that I plan it, if the catcher doesn’t like [the pitch call], he just calls me back. It doesn’t take two or three shakes. …

“After the results today, I feel good with it.”

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