It was hard to watch Fernando Rodney pitch in 2011. The former fire-balling closer for the Tigers simply was not the same, walking batters like crazy and failing to miss any bats. It seemed like injury- Rodney missed a month and a half with a back strain- and simply age- Rodney spent the entire season at 34 years old- had taken their toll on Rodney and his once-promising career had faded quickly. But the Rays saw through all the terrible performance and focused on one thing- despite everything, Rodney was still throwing 96 MPH with a devastating changeup. With the right tinkering, he had a chance to be as good as he had been in the past and maybe better. When Rodney was still on the market in January, they scooped him up on a 1-year, 2.5 million dollar contract with a team option for another year at the same value. And ever since then, Rodney did nothing but dominate, saving 48 games, striking out 76, over 1 per inning, while just 15, and setting an MLB record for pitchers tossing a minimum of 50 innings with a 0.60 ERA.
In recognition of his unbelievable season, Rodney has been named the American League Comeback Player of the Year and also received the Delivery Man of the Year award. Both awards could not be more well-deserved as Rodney did a completely 180 to turn his career around, going from an enigmatic reliever whose career was in jeopardy to delivering one of the best season by a reliever in the history of baseball. Joe Maddon summed it up the best.
“Where he’s come from, last year and the year before that, that’s the part that’s probably the most incredible. To be as dominating as he is right now coming off some really tough times, it’s a tribute to him, too. Opportunity was here. He seized it and he’s run with it, but it’s kind of amazing.”
Congrats to Rodney on both awards, and while we can’t expect him to put up nearly the same ERA this coming season, hopefully he can remain a source of stability for a Rays team that hasn’t had a pitcher lead the team in saves two consecutive years since 2004-2005 and come through with another great year. One major question: did Rodney do his bow-and-arrow routine when he heard that he had won the awards?