Chris Rodriguez, Angels’ bullpen get the job done against Rangers
Alex Cobb got an arm around the shoulder when he returned to the dugout. Chris Rodriguez got pats on the head.
Such was the contrast between the Angels’ starting pitcher and bulk reliever on Wednesday night. Cobb looked shaky over just two innings, getting a quick hook after yielding three runs. But Rodriguez was stellar, pitching 31/3 scoreless innings of relief on a night the Angels’ bullpen lifted the team to 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers.
At first, it looked like the Angels (12-11) might roll in the rubber-match at Globe Life Field. They scored four runs in the top of the first on two-RBI singles from Anthony Rendon and José Iglesias, then escaped a jam in the bottom of the inning with Cobb giving up only one run.
But after Cobb got in trouble again in the second, surrendering two more runs while failing to fool the Rangers lineup, Angels manager Joe Maddon took a gamble. He handed the game over to the bullpen, asking the relievers to protect a one-run lead over the final seven innings.
“Alex was not going to go much more deeply into the game,” Maddon said. “I went up to him after the second and said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to get a whole lot better.’ He agreed with me.”
The Angels lost to the Rangers 6-1 on Tuesday in Arlington, Texas.
Rodriguez was summoned first, adding to what is quickly becoming an impressive rookie season with an efficient scoreless outing. Tony Watson got five straight outs after that. Mike Mayers and Raisel Iglesias shut the door in the eighth and ninth, respectively.
Iglesias picked up his fourth save and Rodriguez was credited with his second win.
“I’m going to do what the team wants, what the team needs for us to win,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what my job is. That’s what I did.”
Here are three observations from Wednesday.
Rodriguez to the rescue
While Rodriguez was pitching through a back injury in Class High-A in 2019 — the highest minor-league level he’d reached prior to his MLB debut this season — he learned the value of getting quick outs.
“My back was killing me,” said Rodriguez, who made only three starts that year before being shut down with a stress fracture in his spine. “I love pitching, but I had to get the heck out [of innings] as soon as possible.”
That ability to pitch efficiently has carried over to this season, with Rodriguez throwing multiple innings Wednesday for the sixth time in seven outings.
Rodriguez walked his first batter, Nate Lowe, but quickly settled down. The next two Rangers grounded into fielder’s choices. Then Lowe was caught stealing to end the third.
Rodriguez retired the side in order in the fourth and fifth innings and was removed after giving up a one-out single in the sixth.
The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani is basically now an everyday player who pitches once a week. He’s tied for the league lead in home runs and is pitching effectively.
In 14 2/3 innings this season, the right-hander has a 2.45 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.
“He straightened that game out for us,” Maddon said, adding: “[He] continues to grow. … Great composure. Everything was working. Attacked with his fastball. Loved everything about it.”
As his outing went on, Rodriguez mixed in more secondary pitches as well. In the fourth inning, he induced groundouts with his curveball and changeup. In the fifth, he got ahead of Nick Solak with two curveballs and a slider before putting him away with a 97.7 mph two-seamer.
To Maddon, it was further evidence that Rodriguez’s future could come in either the bullpen or starting rotation.
“In spring training, I thought he was more of a full-effort, late-inning relief pitcher,” Maddon said. “But he’s got pitchability. I’m seeing the breaking ball, curveball, slider. And I’m seeing the changeup [with] the sink piece that puts the ball on the ground. He can get quick outs. As he builds up and as he gains more experience, in my estimation, he could do either. But I definitely believe he can be a starter.”
Cobb’s early exit
There weren’t many stress-free moments in Cobb’s fourth start with the Angels.
In the first inning, he gave up a long double to Solak that rattled around in the right-field corner. When Lowe reached on a single that was fielded in shallow right field by shifted second baseman David Fletcher two at-bats later, Solak came racing all the way home from second, scoring before the Angels could even get a throw to the plate.
With one out in the second inning, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa singled and Brock Holt doubled in back-to-back at-bats, setting up Johan Heim for a run-scoring groundout and Willie Calhoun for a two-out RBI single.
Of the seven batted balls against Cobb in the second inning, only one was hit harder than 90 mph off the bat. But after he had thrown 51 pitches through the first two frames and generated only three whiffs and 10 called strikes , struggling without the usual depth on his go-to splitter, Maddon decided to turn to his bullpen.
“It just wasn’t coming out as hot. He knew it. We could see it from the side. No deception or swing-and-miss. So save the bullets for next time out.”
It marked the second straight disappointing start for Cobb, who hasn’t replicated the success of his first couple of outings this season.
After racking up 17 strikeouts in his first two games, working at least 5 ⅔ innings each time while giving up no more than three runs, he has been charged with eight runs (seven earned) in his past two starts, generating only six total strikeouts while failing to complete the third inning each time.
He identified the lack of diving action on his splitter as a major problem.
“They’re running horizontally and off the plate,” he said. “So I had a lot of takes for balls on them. And then when they did swing at them, a lot of foul tips. And then eventually, some balls off the end of the bat were put into play and they found some holes.”
Cobb did feel capable of continuing Wednesday, optimistic that he was “starting to feel it a little bit” in the second inning. However, when Maddon wrapped his arm around Cobb in the dugout to deliver the news, the 10-year veteran didn’t protest.
“It was obviously the right move by Joe to go to C-Rod there and get us the win,” Cobb said, adding: “The competitor in me is always going to want to pitch, and I told Joe I’ll throw until my arm falls off for him. He knows that. He chose the decision that gave our team the best chance to win the ballgame. I’ll never question that.”
Chris Rodriguez, 22, displays flashes of potential as a starter by pitching out of a seventh-inning jam in the Angels’ win over the Astros.
Lineup getting healthy
Catcher Max Stassi also returned from a 16-day absence because of a thumb sprain, going 0 for 3 but receiving praise from Rodriguez for how he called the game behind the plate.
He became the third Angels starter to come back this week from an injury, following Monday’s return of Mike Trout (who had missed three games with an elbow contusion) and Anthony Rendon (who had missed more than two weeks with a groin strain).
Aside from Dexter Fowler, who underwent season-ending surgery on his left ACL tear, outfielder Juan Lagares (left calf strain) is the only player from the opening day roster currently out with injury — and he could be back as soon as Friday’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners.
After navigating several key injuries the past two weeks, the Angels’ lineup was healthy enough Wednesday to actually give a couple of regulars planned days off.
Justin Upton and Albert Pujols were rested during Wednesday’s win, a move Maddon made knowing they’d get another breather during the team’s off day Thursday.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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