LAKELAND, Fla. — There has never been a competition among Detroit Tigers pitchers for the honor of Opening Day starter.
This spring training, MLB instructed managers not to reveal their starters for the first game of the regular season on their own timeline. The league wanted the announcements to happen Friday for all 30 teams at the same time because of an “Opening Day Pick ‘Em” promotion.
The Tigers on Friday officially announced left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez as their Opening Day starter for the second straight season. The Tigers begin the regular season March 30 against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
“They trust you to be the first guy on the mound for the organization,” Rodriguez said Thursday. “That’s something really special. Every time I have the opportunity, I’m going to go out there and enjoy it.”
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Before the 2022 season, Rodriguez missed out on a pair of Opening Day starts with the Boston Red Sox. He would have started Opening Day in 2021, but was scratched with “dead arm.” He missed the entire 2020 season after being diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart.
Now, Rodriguez is tabbed for back-to-back Opening Day starts.
The 29-year-old, who has pitched in the World Series, thinks about Opening Day like any other game. He knows that’s not true, but it’s a way to trick his mind into staying calm in a high-pressure situation.
Former teammates Rick Porcello, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale taught him to channel his emotions. His mentors — three-time Cy Young winner and Hall of Famer Pedro Martínez and two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana — were influential in his development, too.
Rodriguez learned his changeup from Santana, a fellow Venezuelan, and mental toughness from Martinez.
“Try to be a tough guy on the mound,” Rodriguez said. “Be aggressive, attack hitters and don’t get caught in situations, just attack, attack, attack. That was the big thing that I took from Pedro.”
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Rodriguez, who turns 30 on April 7, posted a 4.05 ERA with 34 walks and 72 strikeouts across 91 innings in 17 starts for the Tigers last season. It was his first year in a new organization after signing a five-year, $77 million contract.
He missed more than three months in the middle of the season because of an injury and personal matters that put him on the restricted list. He returned in late August and registered a 3.81 ERA in his final 52 innings.
Rodriguez forfeited $74,866 in salary for each day he spent on the restricted list (prorated from his $14 million salary). Spending 67 days there forced him to relinquish approximately $5 million.
Rodriguez will earn $14 million in 2023. He can earn an additional $49 million over the final three seasons of his contract, but he has an opt-out clause in his contract following this season.
He should be a trade candidate at the deadline.
“I put a lot of work in this offseason to be where I am now,” Rodriguez said. “I feel happy the way my pitches are moving, the way my body feels and the way everything feels on the right path for the season.”
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Rodriguez will pitch his final spring training game Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Joker Marchant Stadium, and entered with 13 scoreless innings, two walks and 15 strikeouts in four starts.
Before joining the Tigers, Rodriguez experienced his best season with the Red Sox in 2019. He had a 3.81 ERA with 75 walks and 213 strikeouts across 203⅓ innings in 34 starts, and finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting behind winner Justin Verlander.
Rodriguez, a World Series champion in 2018 with Boston, has a career 4.15 ERA over 176 games in seven seasons.
Before Rodriguez in 2022, the four most recent Opening Day starters for the Tigers were Price (2015), Verlander (2009-14, 2016-17), Jordan Zimmermann (2018-19) and Matthew Boyd (2020-21).
“I want to show (the fans) the best I can do,” Rodriguez said. “Win games and do my job. That’s the best thing that I can show them. I love the fans. I love the way they go to the ballpark and cheer for us. We didn’t have a winning season, but they were still going to the ballpark, so that means they care a lot for the team and the players. I can’t wait to see them this season and give them my best.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.