E-Rod’s command ‘off’ in last start before Deadline

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — On a Tuesday night when power issues at Comerica Park knocked out both the Tigers’ and the Angels’ broadcasts and threatened to shut off the pitch clock, the scoreboard and the lights, Eduardo Rodriguez had full power but no command — not with his pitches, not with his situation.

For a veteran pitcher who thrives on dotting the corners of the strike zone more than lighting up radar guns or dominating metrics, it was an odd outing, culminating with a no-decision in a 7-6 loss Tigers to the Angels.

“Fastballs, changeups, all the pitches were kind of off today,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like the command of every pitch was kind of off. … Everything was all over the place. Sometimes I’d throw a fastball away and I’d miss it inside.”

With at least seven Major League scouts on hand, several of whom had seen Rodriguez dominate the Royals in Kansas City six days earlier, it was an odd display in what was expected to be his final start before next Tuesday’s Trade Deadline. The Tigers have planned to use an extra starter or a bullpen game on Saturday and push Tarik Skubal back to Sunday’s series finale against the Marlins on five days’ rest. That would bump Rodriguez to Tuesday night’s game in Pittsburgh.

First pitch of the series opener at PNC Park is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET. The Trade Deadline that day is at 6 p.m.

Rodriguez has said repeatedly that he focuses only on what he can control, which is his pitching. He reiterated as much when asked if the thought had crossed his mind at any point Tuesday that it could be his final start as a Tiger.

“I don’t really think about that,” Rodriguez said. “I think about going out there and [pitching]. Just got to get myself ready for my next start and go for it.”

Rodriguez’s control of the market and his control of the game seemed equally tenuous for much of the night as scouts brought out radar guns and jotted down notes. That said, he limited the damage just enough to avoid the kind of disastrous outing that could lead teams to think twice about his stingy stretch against the Royals and Mariners.

With power issues knocking out data connectivity, Statcast information was scarce. But basic statistics made it clear Rodriguez was off. He hadn’t walked three batters in a game all season until Tuesday. Now, walking Shohei Ohtani twice can be considered a strategy, but Rodriguez also walked .200-hitting backup catcher Chad Wallach on four pitches in the second inning. He also barely avoided damage falling behind other hitters, like when Hunter Renfroe drove a 2-0 pitch to the warning track in the fourth inning and when Luis Rengifo flew out to deep right on a 2-1 offering in the fifth.

Rodriguez struck out three of his first 12 batters, two of them on called third strikes, but he struggled to come up with key swings and misses. Mike Moustakas’ two-run double in the opening inning put the Tigers behind early. Right after a fourth-inning RBI single by Javier Báez halved Detroit’s deficit, Rodriguez gave up a double to No. 9 hitter Andrew Velazquez on the first pitch of the fifth inning. Akil Baddoo’s diving grab turned Taylor Ward’s liner to left into a sacrifice fly later in the inning, but Eduardo Escobar’s two-out RBI single completed the damage.

“I don’t think his command was his best,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Changeup wasn’t as good as last time; it was wipeout last time. … He got punished early for not being able to control the top of the first inning, but then it looked like he settled in. And then he looked like he lost his command again. Very uncharacteristic for him.”

Rodriguez’s 4 2/3 innings tied his second-shortest start of the season. The only one shorter was his four-inning return from the injured list three weeks ago. Had Tuesday’s outing happened then, evaluators might have chalked it up to the month that Rodriguez missed with a ruptured pulley in his left index finger or getting the feel back for his pitches in the finger itself. Instead, after two strong starts, this was just a dud.

At the same time, it’s a reminder of Rodriguez’s situation. While teams view him as a short-term rental, his contract runs through 2026, with an opt-out clause after this season. A protracted struggle — or worse, an injury — could flip expectations and bring a long-term commitment.

So like Comerica Park’s power situation Tuesday night, there’s more uncertainty to go around.

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