Eduardo Rodriguez’s best start as a Detroit Tiger sets an example for rotation

Detroit Free Press

For the fourth time in his career, Detroit Tigers left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez completed eight innings.

But he wanted more.

The 30-year-old, who signed a five-year, $77 million contract in November 2021, wanted to take the mound for the ninth inning in pursuit of a complete game shutout, which would have been the first of his career.

Manager A.J. Hinch had a different plan, however.

“I wanted it,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to go out there. I mean, who wouldn’t want to get CGs all the time? But for me, he’s the manager. He’s the one in charge. He decided to take me out, and I’m just grateful that he let me go eight.”

GAME 1: Kerry Carpenter’s blast sends Tigers to fourth straight win, 4-3 over Guardians

GAME 2: Eduardo Rodriguez dominates Cleveland as Tigers’ win streak hits five games

The decision from the veteran manager paid off in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Cleveland Guardians in Game 2 of the doubleheader, as right-handed reliever Jason Foley took the mound for the ninth and notched a first of his own: The first save of his career.

That included a strikeout of Jose Ramirez, one of the best hitters in baseball, with a down-and-away changeup.

Regardless of the ninth inning, Rodriguez set the tone in Game 2 as the Tigers extended their winning streak to five games. The Tigers — at 7-9 overall — have won seven of 13 games since getting swept in three games by the Rays to open the season.

“He’s a really good pitcher,” Hinch said. “When we signed him, we expected him to be a really good pitcher, and games like today are what we hope for every single time. … When he pitches, he takes a ton of responsibility upon himself, and that’s why he’s at the front of the rotation.”

The winning streak, in which the Tigers have outscored their foes by a combined seven runs (after getting outscored by 42 runs over their first 11 games), includes three walk-off victories. The Tigers won, 1-0, in Game 1 of the doubleheader on Kerry Carpenter’s walk-off home run in the ninth inning.

“I’ve been telling you guys that we have a really good team, and we have really good chemistry here as a team,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone is going out there and trying to win the game. Everybody is trying to do their part to win the game. That’s the goal for us, and that’s how it feels over here.”

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Rodriguez, in his fourth start this season, tossed eight scoreless innings. He worked around four singles while striking out 10 and not allowing a walk. He threw 72 of 99 pitches for strikes.

It started with establishing his fastball on the inside part of the strike zone.

“Most of the time, the hitters are the going to tell me which pitch I’m going to throw the most in the game,” Rodriguez said. “And today, it was the fastball, and I was able to locate it right where I wanted, so that was the pitch that I took advantage of today.”

Rodriguez threw his four-seam fastball 37 times to get seven of his 14 whiffs and eight of his 15 called strikes. He also threw 24 sinkers, 23 cutters, 12 changeups and three sliders. His cutter produced five more whiffs.

“Go with what was working,” catcher Jake Rogers said. “Hitting his spots makes it easier to sequence when you can work off all his pitches like that. Going inside on hitters is important. When you can make important pitches in, stuff falls off that. You can work away and go upstairs.”

Rodriguez was fearless in his three matchups with Ramirez in the first, fourth and seventh innings. He struck him out with a fourth-pitch sinker in the first, a fourth-pitch slider in the fourth and a fourth-pitch cutter in the seventh, with all three drawing whiffs.

The switch-hitting Ramirez, a four-time All-Star who entered Tuesday with just five strikeouts in 75 plate appearances, finished 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in Game 2. He went 1-for-4 with one strikeout in Game 1 against left-hander Matthew Boyd and right-hander Mason Englert.

“He’s a great hitter,” Rodriguez said. “I love him. I just tried to get him out. Every time I step on the mound, no matter who is out there, I try to get him out. That’s the way I think.”

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Rodriguez also received help from his defense.

In the third inning, Gabriel Arias was thrown out by Rogers trying to steal second base. In the fifth, Matt Vierling robbed Josh Naylor of a home run with a leaping catch while crashing into the right-field wall. With two outs in the eighth, Jonathan Schoop completed a sliding grab to keep Steven Kwan’s ball from getting into the outfield, then fired to first, where Spencer Torkelson scooped the ball to complete the inning-ending play.

“That’s him,” Vierling said of Rodriguez’s dominant start. “He works so fast. I feel like sometimes I barely have time to get back to my position. But it’s awesome. He throws strikes. He gets ahead of guys. He works quick. It’s everything you can ask for.”

Pitching and defense won Game 2 for the Tigers. The end result, a 1-0 victory with zero walks, served as an example of what happens when a starting pitcher fills up the strike zone instead of nibbling around the edges — controlling the strike zone, to borrow new Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris’ phrase.

That’s called dominating the strike zone.

It was incredible.

“Everything that we’ve talked about on how to be competitive and how to win starts with throwing strikes, and he pounded the strike zone relentlessly,” Hinch said. “That’s picture-perfect for what we want from our pitchers.”

MORE ON E-ROD: Eduardo Rodriguez ‘is going to be the ace’ for Tigers, his former catchers say

After four starts, Rodriguez has a 3.00 ERA with five walks and 19 strikeouts in 24 innings. Back in 2019, he posted a 3.81 ERA with 75 walks and 213 strikeouts across 203⅓ innings for the Boston Red Sox to finish sixth in American League Cy Young voting.

Rodriguez has allowed just one run over his past 14 innings, and in Tuesday’s eight-inning masterpiece, he looked like an ace. The Tigers, on the verge of a .500 record, need more of those performances moving forward.

“That’s the goal,” Rodriguez said. “I feel happy with it. That’s my goal every time I go out there, whether it’s early or late in the season. I just want to go out there and give my best for the team to win the game.”

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

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