Adrian Rodriguez missed a season and a half of baseball because of Tommy John surgery. He ran and lifted weights to stay in shape while his right elbow recovered. But he never stopped thinking about pitching and how badly he wanted to get batters out.
“The mental side is inside me,” Rodriguez said through translator and teammate Narciso Crook.
That mental side and that healthy elbow have combined to make the 21-year-old Rodriguez the Dayton Dragons’ hottest starter this week. Rodriguez, who is from Mexico, pitched six scoreless innings in his debut last Friday. On Wednesday, he allowed one run in six innings as the Dragons won their third straight and ninth out of their last 10 with a 5-4 victory over Cedar Rapids in 10 innings.
“It’s very satisfying just to be able to pitch again, and it’s rewarding to have very good results because of all the hard work that I did in rehab,” Rodriguez said.
Pitching coach Seth Etherton, who worked with Rodriguez in 2016, is impressed with the way Rodriguez has pitched after such a long time off.
“He’s very aggressive and he knows himself very well,” Etherton said. “He’s a very good competitor, he’s fearless and for the most part he’s got very good stuff.”
Rodriguez started heavy with the fastball before mixing in his sinker and curveball and even some changeups — a pitch he is learning.
“That’s part of the maturity that he has is to understand how good his pitches are, and if he doesn’t have to expose anything, he can keep it up his sleeve a little bit,” Etherton said.
Rodriguez said his aggressive nature on the mound goes back to a phrase he once heard: “You’ve got to finish the hitter. Either he’s going to eat or your family’s going to eat.”
That same aggressive approach took the mound in the 10th in closer John Ghyzel (2-1). A new minor-league rule puts a runner at second base to start extra innings. After a sacrifice bunt, Ghyzel struck out two with an intentional walk in between.
“I don’t think things bother him at all,” Bolivar said. “He just came out and attacked them and got the job done.”
The Dragons (18-12) had their chance in the bottom of the 10th and for the second time this season Jeter Downs had the walk-off winner with a bloop single to right that brought Morgan Lofstrom home from second.
“Obviously there’s going to be a little nerves going, but you do your best to try to calm yourself and stay confident and get the job done,” Downs said.
Bolivar likes what the rule does to help shorten games and put let stress on the relievers. And he was glad to see Downs bat in that situation.
“He would be one of the guys I would want in that clutch situation and he came through again,” he said. “Everyday it’s a different guy who comes through, and it’s good to see that.”
On Monday it was light-hitting shortstop Jose Garcia with two clutch run-producing hits. Tuesday it was John Sansone with a three-run homer and Crook with a three-run double. Those two produced again in the fourth on Wednesday when Sansone singled in a run and Crook hit a two-run homer, his third of the season. Leandro Santana hit his first homer in the third.
Dragon tales: Former Dragons outfielder Jose Siri was activated from the disabled list and will join the Daytona Tortugas on Thursday in the advanced Class A Florida State League. Siri, who set a Midwest League record last year with a 39-game hitting streak, injured his thumb when he ran into the outfield wall in the Reds first spring training game.