Eduardo Rodriguez wants to call his own pitches; Detroit Tigers plan to be ‘collaborative’

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, the highest-paid pitcher on the roster, reached to his left hip, where a PitchCom device was attached to his belt, and started pressing buttons.

In Friday’s 6-3 win, Rodriguez became the latest pitcher to call his own pitches for his entire outing. The 29-year-old fired three scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies with zero walks and three strikeouts.

“I feel like I know myself more than anybody,” Rodriguez said. “If some pitches aren’t working the right way and the catcher is 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.”

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On Saturday morning, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch met with the pitchers and catchers.

It sounds like Rodriguez won’t call his own pitches anymore.

“It’s going to be important that we are always collaborative with how we call games,” Hinch said. “It’s not the catcher’s game to call. It’s not the pitcher’s game to call. We should have had this meeting a week ago.”

New York Mets right-hander Max Scherzer, the highest-paid pitcher in baseball and arguably the best pitcher of his generation, inspired Rodriguez’s decision to call his own pitches, as did New York Yankees righty Luis Severino.

Rodriguez loved calling the shots.

“The results that I had today, and the confidence that I feel with it, I feel like I’m going to keep doing it,” Rodriguez said. “If they let me do it, I’m going to keep doing it again because I like it a lot. I like it, and it worked really well, so why not?”

In Thursday’s game, Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd called four or five pitches — either for no-doubt decisions or to settle a disagreement — but wanted the catcher to call the game. For Boyd, pushing the PitchCom buttons for a few pitches was more about speeding up the game than taking complete control.

It wasn’t the same for Rodriguez.

“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, and that’s the one I’m going to throw,” 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, or feels something, he can just tell me right away.”

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Rodriguez has thrown nearly 1,000 innings in his MLB career, more than any pitcher on the Tigers’ roster. He won the 2018 World Series with the Boston Red Sox and finished sixth in 2019 American League Cy Young voting.

He called all 33 pitches in Friday’s start: 16 four-seam fastballs, six cutters, five changeups, three sinkers and three sliders. He struck out Trea Turner twice and generated six swings and misses.

For now, the Tigers plan to collaborate among several voices in the organization to make the best decisions in search of winning games. That means pitchers, catchers, coaches and advance scouts, among others, will play a role.

One individual will not have full control.

“We have a lot of people that aren’t a pitcher or a catcher that weigh in on a game plan,” Hinch said. “Relating anything in spring training, in that regard, to the regular season is just not accurate. It’s not the same. You would never pitch the same way in spring in the first or second outing.

“There’s a reason why NFL quarterbacks don’t call their own plays. There’s a reason why the NBA doesn’t just hand it over to the players in their system offense. It’s because these game plans are super complex.”

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Rodriguez prioritized his fastball in the first inning, slider in the second inning and changeup in the third inning. He was amped up, too, as his fastball averaged 93.1 mph, a significant increase from last year’s velocity.

His fastball-only first inning was by design.

“I tried to establish myself, not just the fastball,” Rodriguez said. “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.”

Rodriguez thinks calling his own pitches will protect the catcher from getting blamed for in-game mistakes. In the 2022 season, he started 17 games for the Tigers — posting a 4.05 ERA — and worked with two catchers: Tucker Barnhart (14 games) and Eric Haase (three games).

“If I’m throwing a pitch and somebody hits a homer, it’s my pitch,” Rodriguez said. “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 I plan it, if the catcher doesn’t like (my pitch call), he just calls me back. It doesn’t take two or three shakes.”

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Catcher Donny Sands, who said he would have called Friday’s game differently, didn’t call a single pitch. For his first outing with Rodriguez, he learned a lot about the veteran pitcher by following along with his decisions.

“It was definitely a lot easier,” Sands said. “I never caught him before in a game, so it let me have the feel for what he likes to do. I think that was a good thing for my first time catching him, or else I’m calling what he doesn’t usually throw.”

In the future, though, Sands would prefer to offer the first opinion about the upcoming pitch, especially considering his knowledge of the scouting report, before a pitcher ultimately decides what they want to do.

“For the (pitch) clock purposes, it’s me calling the first pitch, and then if they shake, they can call the pitch that they want,” Sands said. “Let us give our opinion first, and then they can take it from there.”

The exact plan moving forward isn’t entirely clear.

But Hinch is clear about one thing.

This won’t be a one-man show.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Hinch said. “I like them working together, and I like the people behind the scenes that don’t get to wear uniforms that are forming significant opinions as well. We have a whole advance team for a reason. … It’s more complex than a pitch communication system that for some reason got headed down a path of it being a singular person’s responsibility.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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