2009 Player Profile: Fernando Rodney

Fernando Rodney #56

  • Height: 5′ 11″ | Weight: 220
  • 2008 Stats: 0-6, 4.91 ERA, 13 Saves

In a bottom-line business like major league baseball, fans tend to overlook stats such as 49 strikeouts in 40 innings or 13 saves from a late-inning reliever like Fernando Rodney. RodneyHead.jpgSix blown saves and an ERA a whisker under five are more glaring and more representative of Detroit’s bullpen woes in 2008. Yet despite that lackluster campaign, the Tigers expect big things from Rodney in ’09.

Though he spent April and May on the DL, the ’08 season wasn’t all bad for the senior-ranking Tiger in the bullpen; he assembled stretches of lights-out appearances, including June and July in which hitters produced a .183 average against him. Over that same timeframe he fanned 37 in 27.1 innings pitched. The key to success for Rodney is a breathtaking changeup that, when near the plate, is difficult for hitters to resist. Of course, a high-90s fastball makes the off-speed pitches that much more tantalizing.

With Todd Jones’ retirement, Brandon Lyon‘s arrival and Joel Zumaya’s (tentative) return, chances are that Rodney will begin 2009 as a setup man. If something goes wrong with Lyon or Zumaya and if Rodney can harness his pitches, develop consistency, and fortify his mental makeup, he could, in the end, be the Tigers’ answer at closer.

For a pitcher with Rodney’s track record, that’s an awful lot of ifs.

Meet Brandon Lyon

BrandonLyon.jpgWhenever I watched Brandon Lyon pitch for the Diamondbacks the past couple of seasons, my immediate reaction was always he’s a younger Todd Jones.

Fact is, he throws harder than Jones — which can’t hurt — but no one is going to confuse him with Joe Nathan.

Last season wasn’t a pleasant one for the D-backs’ closer, a position he lost to Chad Qualls. Well, that’s not entirely true.

Despite four blown saves in 23 chances in the first half, hitters managed a .243 average against him and his ERA was 2.43. (Compare that to Jones’s 4.95 ERA and .297 opponents’ average in the first half.)

In terms of repertoire, it doesn’t extend far past a fastball and curve. In fact, that’s it. But the curveball is something to behold; no roundhouse breaking pitch, Lyon’s is top-to-bottom — or noon-to-six, as they say. Still, in 2008 he threw the fastball 72 percent of the time — 73 percent with two strikes.

As you might expect, Lyons doesn’t heave bullets across the heart of the plate. Instead, he has a Jones-like corners-nibbling approach. His favorite spots — against righties or lefties — are the outside corners. But against lefties his greatest success comes on the inside corner, up and in, and down and in. So, did the Tigers get themselves another Todd Jones?

Perhaps.

But Lyon is 10 years younger than the Tigers’ erstwhile closer and, in the spirit of optimism, he seems to have the durability and closer-ish stuff the bullpen so desperately needs.

(Oh, and Lyon wore number 38 in Arizona and will need a new one in Detroit…unless Jeremy Bonderman wants to give up his number. I’m guessing he ends up with 36.)

The Top 10 Tigers Stories of 2008: #6 – Joel Zumaya Gets Hurt Again

Number6.jpgThe Tigers were likely ecstatic when Joel Zumaya managed a quicker-than-expected return from shoulder reconstruction. A healthy Zumaya (and Fernando Rodney) was to revitalize a rickety bullpen and fill in the sizable reliability gap late in games. Except they didn’t.

Zumaya was cleared to play in late June and appeared in 21 games (23.1 IP).

It all came crashing down again on August 12 against Toronto at Comerica Park:

The Tigers had a two-run lead with two outs in the seventh inning with the middle of the Blue Jays order coming up. All five batters he faced reached base safely, fueling a four-run rally in a 6-4 Detroit loss and fueling the speculation that something is wrong with Zumaya.

“We’re very suspicious that he’s not right,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I mean, enough’s enough. It’s not his fault. We’re just getting him checked out for precautionary measures.

“I know he’s not right. I don’t know if he’s hurt, but he’s definitely not right. I know that for a fact.”

A month after the disastrous appearance against the Blue Jays, Zumaya was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right shoulder.

He finished his truncated season 0-2 with a 3.57 ERA. He allowed 24 hits, 22 walks, 22 strikeouts and 13 runs (nine of them earned). And he blew four of five save opportunities.

When the season started, the Tigers weren’t counting on Zumaya for much of a contribution. But Todd Jones began to show his age and the speedy recovery by Zumaya changed everything.

Or so it seemed.

A Bummer of an Outlook for the 2009 Tigers

ESPN.com’s trip through each MLB team’s roster continued today with write Jonah Keri‘s lens focused on the American League Central and the Tigers.

If you’re looking for a positive outlook to end your week, look elsewhere. Here’s a taste:

Aside from a younger, more athletic band of glove men, the Tigers need about a half-dozen new pitchers. Verlander and Galarraga figure to anchor a rotation that’s woefully shorthanded, with lefties Dontrelle Willis, Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson turning into pumpkins and Jeremy Bonderman now more of a perennial injury risk than a future frontline starter. The bullpen is no better, with Todd Jones retired, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney fighting to regain their lost command, and journeyman Aquilino Lopez the best of the 2008 bunch.

Now that hurts.

Catching Up on a Week of News

Catcher.jpgEvery time I sat down to write about a bit of Tigers news in the past five days, another shoe would drop and I’d think “I’ll write about both of those items.” Then another and another, etc.

So, as I wait out this Tigers/White Sox rain delay from bright, sunny Phoenix, it’s time to weigh in on:

  • Todd Jones’s Retirement. The decades-old joke in Detroit is that the most popular person in the city is the Lions’ backup QB and/or the Red Wings’ backup netminder. I think we can now add the Tigers’ setup man to that punch line. Detroit is unusually cruel to its closers. Less than a year after Willie Hernandez won the 1984 Cy Young and MVP awards, he started getting booed and it’s never stopped. Mike Henneman did too, but to a much smaller degree. The Tigers were so unwatchable during Todd Jones‘s first tour of duty in Detroit, that often he was the only bright spot. Come to think of it, he was a welcome sight then because it mean the Tigers were in line for a rare win.

    But what was it about Jones in his second stint as a Tiger? What made it so infuriating? Sure, he got 93 saves in just under three seasons but his ERA was always around four and … ah, what’s the use? Jones is a good guy and I’m sure he’ll be missed by his teammates. I guess. For me, though, I’ll never be able to forgive him for not being Joe Nathan.

    Continue reading Catching Up on a Week of News

Friday Fungoes

thermometer.jpgWelcome to August! In the Phoenix area we ring in the month with 113 degrees…but a mere 20 percent humidity. The poor Tigers head to Tampa where the temperature and humidity are 86. God bless Willis Carrier.

  • So how did July end up for the Tigers? Even. As in 13-13. Here are some other tidbits that helped shape a so-so month in this so-so season:
    • Losses to the Twins on July 1 and the Indians on July 31 bookend the month.
    • Top hitter: Magglio Ordonez: .386; however he played in only 15 games. We’ll expand this to the two players that played in the most games last month: Curtis Granderson (26 games) .324, and Miguel Cabrera (25 games) .330.
    • Most hits: Granderson, 36; Cabrera, 25
    • Most homers: Cabrera, 8.
    • Top pitcher, wins: Justin Verlander, 4
    • ERA, starter: Zach Miner, 1.29
    • ERA, reliever: Bobby Seay, 0.79
    • Saves: Todd Jones, 3.

  • The good news heading into a new month is that the Tigers are just 5.5 games out of first place with two months to play. The bad news? The Tigers are just 5.5 games out of fourth place. Savor that for a moment, won’t you?

  • According to the results of The Daily Fungo Pulse Check unscientific poll, 57 percent of Fungo readers said they expected the Tigers to be buyers at the trade deadline, 43 percent thought the Tigers would sell. Interestingly, I noticed a mini-surge in “sellers” votes after the Pudge deal was announced. Be sure to cast your vote in this week’s new poll.

  • The big media outlets released power rankings for this week. The Tigers certainly have the look of a middling team according to:

  • Does anyone else feel like it’s Sept. 20 and not Aug. 1? This season is exhausting.

Finally, on Aug. 1, 1974, at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, Ron LeFlore made his major-league debut for the Tigers. Ralph Houk put him in the leadoff spot against the Brewers’ Jim Slaton and LeFlore struck out thrice. It wasn’t until his fourth at bat that he put a ball in play: a grounder to third baseman Don Money for the first out of the eighth.

The Tigers won the game 2-0 behind a masterful performance by Woodie Fryman: a complete-game one-hitter. Woodrow struck out 10 and walked three. Norm Cash drove in both runs with a solo homer and an RBI single.

Wondering who caught Fryman’s gem? Gene Lamont.

Have a great weekend.

Remembering the (First?) Todd Jones Trade

PitchersMound.jpgTodd Jones is no longer the Tigers’ closer. The statement is as true today as it was on this date in 2001. That’s the day the Tigers sent Jones to the Twins for lefty Mark Redman.

In 2002, his only full season with Detroit, Redman went 8-15, 4.21 in 30 starts. The Tigers traded Redman to the Marlins after that season for Nate Robertson, Gary Knotts and Rob Henkel.

After winning the 2003 World Series with Florida, Redman went on the team-a-year plan:

  • 2004 – Oakland
  • 2005 – Pittsburgh
  • 2006 – Kansas City
  • 2007 – Atlanta/Colorado

He began this year with the Colorado organization and got some time with the big club:

Redman appeared in 10 games with the Rockies this year, nine of them as a starter, and was 2-5 with a 7.54 ERA. He began the season in the Rockies’ rotation before being sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs on May 11.

The Rockies designated him for assignment 10 days ago and his career might very well be over.

Same could be said for Todd Jones.

Game 98: Two Kinds of Heat

ScorecardXSmall.jpg

The Score: Tigers 5 – Orioles 1

The Gist: Justin Verlander dominated — 8.2 IP, three hits, three walks, three strikeouts — and Magglio Ordonez and Marcus Thames went yard to lead the Tigers to a series split against the pesky Orioles. Brandon Inge made the play of the week, if not the year, for the final out of the game (to save Todd Jones‘s bacon).

The Quote: “One of the hottest days I can remember.” — Inge on the conditions at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 96 at game time.

The Stat: 7. The number of points Gary Sheffield (.225) has over Inge’s batting average.

Up Next: Tigers @ Royals

Zach Miner (3-3, 4.23) vs. Luke Hochevar (6-7, 5.10)

Game 95: Tightrope Walking

ESPN highlights available here.

ScorecardXSmall.jpg

The Score: Tigers 6 – Orioles 5

The Gist: Gary Sheffield went yard (almost twice), as did Marcus Thames and Brandon Inge, and Kenny Rogers pitched just good enough to win the opening game of the four-gamer against the Orioles. Magglio Ordonez went 1 for 5 in his return from the DL. In the eighth, Baltimore leftfielder Jay Payton robbed Sheffield of his second homer of the game. Todd Jones freaked everyone out for his 18th nearly blown save.

The Quote: “But like I say, `If you see something, say something.'” — Sheffield on his willingness to take hitting advice from, say, a former big-league star that Jim Leyland ran into in New York this week.

The Stat: 13. The number of baserunners Rogers allowed (11 hits, two walks) in six innings of work.

Up Next: Tigers @ Orioles

Armando Galarraga (7-3, 3.27) vs. Daniel Cabrera (6-5, 4.33)

Game 91: Two Words: White. Flag.

WhiteFlag.jpgI’m breaking from the usual game recap format tonight to reluctantly raise a white flag on the 2008 season.

In fact, indulge me while I use a line from my favorite movie, “Midnight Run“, in which Robert DeNiro tells Charles Grodin:

“You’re in this mess because you’re in this mess. I didn’t put you in this mess.”

There are countless reasons why the Tigers are in this mess. The poor start. The inconsistent hitting. The Little-League caliber defense. You know the rest. But I think one of the main reasons the Tigers are in a mess for the rest of the season is the closer role.

Easy target? Yep. Todd Jones is actually too easy a target, I’ll admit it. But in tonight’s loss to the Twins, you could feel the difference between the two teams as the game wore on. The difference, of course, is the Twins closer, Joe Nathan. The guy simply doesn’t blow saves.

Okay, he’s blown two this season (the same number as Jones. Ahem). But against Detroit in his career Nathan’s a perfect 24-for-24. Opponents know that he’s lurking out there waiting to come in, usually in the ninth inning, to close out the game, often in 1-2-3 fashion.

Let’s face it, the Tigers bullpen, outside of setup man Joel Zumaya, maybe, scares no one. These days, opponents are practically giddy when “Bobby Seay, Bobby Don’t” or Fernando Rodney enter a game.

If — a monumental if — the Tigers somehow hang around to make late noise in the division there will be tight games left and right, and the margin for error, particularly in the standings, will be just about zero.

How confident are you that Todd Jones can save important games down the stretch?

Same here. Discuss.