Should the Rays Still Believe in Fernando Rodney?

By David Hill

To say that Fernando Rodney has struggled thus far this season would be an understatement. Even though he is still getting strikeouts, he is in the midst of what has, up to this point, been the worst season he has had in the majors. His 5.40 ERA is the highest is the highest of his career by almost half a run, and he is walking almost a batter an inning. Clearly, he has had his issues this season with his command,and is not close to the virtual lock he was at the end of games last season.

However, the Rays appear to still be confident in his ability to turn things around. Both Joe Maddon and Joel Peralta downplayed the possibility of Rodney losing his spot, voicing their support. Maddon stated that there have been no thoughts of removing him from the closer’s role, and when asked about possibly closing game, Peralta had the following to say:

"“It’s not going to happen, Fernando is going to be our closer for the whole year.”"

It appears as though the Rays, at the very least, have faith that Rodney will turn his season around and will return to his form of last year. But why are they so confident that he can revert to that form? Throughout his career, he had produced a 4.29 ERA and had walked nearly five batters per nine innings, numbers much closer to his performance this season than his historic run last year. While he was expected to regress this season, each passing game makes his 2012 campaign seem like more of an aberration than it had been expected to be.

Perhaps the Rays feel that Rodney can be fixed. Last season, they made a minor adjustment to his delivery, which helped him harness his excellent stuff, moving him all the way to the first base side of the pitching rubber. This year, he appears to be back towards the middle of the mound, as he had been throughout his career. He has also had been using more of a slide step last year, instead of the big leg kick typical of most relievers. This season, he has developed a toe tap, where he taps his foot on the ground up to three times per pitch.

Rodney also had been noticed to be tipping his pitches during the World Baseball Classic, which has continued into the regular season. He had been holding his hands up higher on the fastball, and dropping them when throwing a changeup. This season, hitters have been laying off the changeup more often, as the pitch is resulting in a ball 35.9% of the time, up from 29.03% last year.

Perhaps this is why the Rays continue to have faith that Rodney can get back to being a successful closer, that he just needs to have a couple of minor mechanical adjustments before he returns to the form he displayed last season. However, if these adjustments either do not stick or do not work, the Rays confidence in Rodney may prove to be unwarranted.

With the problems the Rays have had in their bullpen this season, likely the last thing they wanted to have concerns about is their closer. Yet, Rodney’s struggles have prompted a lot of questions and speculation as to whether or not he should retain that role. As it stands, the Rays appear to be gambling that he can be fixed. If they are wrong, and they end up missing the postseason, Rodney may end up being a major reason.