Detroit Tigers’ Scott Harris: Eduardo Rodriguez is ‘a great story for us’ in 2023 season

Detroit Free Press

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, an eight-year MLB veteran, has flirted with a perfect game, posted a 0.43 ERA in his past six starts and consistently put the Detroit Tigers in a position to win games.

The 30-year-old ranks as the fourth-best pitcher in baseball since April 12, when his impressive six-start stretch began, with a 1.7 fWAR. He owns a 1.57 ERA and is worth 1.4 fWAR throughout eight starts this season.

He is pitching like an ace.

“I hope you ask me that the whole year,” Rodriguez said Wednesday, after throwing seven scoreless innings in a 5-0 win, about his month-long spell of dominant performances. “That’s the way I know I’m pitching good. For me, I’m going to keep going out there and putting up zeros. I don’t think about how many games I’ve been pitching good. It’s just go out there, keep doing it and get guys out. That’s it.”

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In November 2021, Rodriguez signed a five-year, $77 million contract with the Tigers. He earned $14 million in 2022 (though he relinquished approximately $5 million due to his time on the restricted list) and will receive another $14 million in 2023.

Rodriguez is set to earn $18 million in 2024, $16 million in 2025 and $15 million in 2026. But there’s an opt-out clause in his contract after this season, meaning he could leave the Tigers and test free agency.

He hasn’t revealed whether or not he will opt out of his contract, but considering the way he’s pitching and the market value for starting pitchers, he would be foolish not to become a free agent again.

“It means every five days we think we have an excellent shot to win,” Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris said Friday, “and the other four days, we think that we have a very positive influential presence in our dugout who is helping some of our younger pitchers, like Joey Wentz.”

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Assuming Rodriguez plans to opt-out, the Tigers would be wise to trade him before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. He represents the franchise’s biggest trade chip in years. (Rodriguez has a 10-team no-trade clause.)

Or, the Tigers could restructure the terms of his contract and pay him what he’s worth to keep him.

“We’re in the mode of trying to win today,” Harris said of the trade deadline. “That’s all I’ve been focused on today. It’s premature for us to forecast what we’re going to be doing at any upcoming deadline, including the one in August. If we continue to focus on trying to win today, the way we have for the past three-plus weeks, all of that other stuff is going to figure itself out.”

So far, Rodriguez’s performance in his first eight starts — based on his 1.4 fWAR — is worth $10.9 million, according to Fangraphs’ dollar valuation. (Remember, Rodriguez will earn $14 million this season.)

In eight starts, Rodriguez has a 1.57 ERA with 10 walks (5.3% walk rate) and 47 strikeouts (24.7% strikeout rate) across 51⅔ innings.

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“Eduardo’s performance out of the gate is one of the best storylines in his organization right now, and it’s a credit to him for all the hard work he did this offseason to put himself in this position, but it’s also a credit to A.J. (Hinch, manager) and our staff, who have been obsessed with finding ways to help our players get better. It’s a great story for us, and it’s really fun to watch him pitch every five days.”

No new information

Outfielder Austin Meadows hasn’t played since April 6 — despite being with the Tigers for workouts and games at Comerica Park — because of anxiety.

The Tigers placed the 28-year-old on the 10-day injured list April 8 (retroactive to April 7), then transferred him to the 60-day injured list at the beginning of May. He isn’t eligible to return from the injured list until the second week in June.

Harris provided a lengthy response when asked about Meadows’ status and the mental health resources provided by the organization, but he didn’t answer the question. (The Tigers, by the way, have four psychologists on their staff.)

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“That’s a really difficult question for me to answer, and I’ll explain why it’s difficult,” Harris said. “I think as an organization we need to talk more about mental health issues. I think we need to do our part as an organization to destigmatize mental health issues in society and sports. However, at the same time, the last thing I want to do is violate the confidentiality that I promised the players with respect to the mental health resources and support that we’re providing to them.

“I’m not going to comment on Austin directly or the resources that we’re providing directly, but I can share one theme that is driving the support system that we’re building in this organization. That theme is that we want to draw parallels between physical health issues and mental health issues.

“By way of example, when a player sprains his ankle, he walks into the training room, he gets treatment on his ankle, he gets a visible wrap around his ankle, all of his teammates and the staff constantly ask him about his ankle, they monitor his progress, they encourage him, he starts to integrate some daily work into his routine, he also takes preventative steps to strengthen his ankle and increase the flexibility to head off future setbacks with the ankle.

“We’re trying to challenge ourselves to treat mental health issues the same way, to try to build that type of support system where we are inviting players to make use of the resources that we are providing, not just when there’s an issue, but to take preventive steps and to engage in some of the maintenance routines that will help them head off some issues that they face on a nightly basis at this level.”

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

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