The Return of Fernando Rodney’s Toe Tap

By David Hill

To say that Fernando Rodney was struggling at the beginning of the season would be an understatement. On the heels of his dominant 2012 season, and excellent performance for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, Rodney had a rough first two months of the season. Through May 25th, he was 1-2 with  6.05 ERA, saving only nine of fourteen chances. Even more perplexing was a mechanical issue that suddenly popped up, where Rodney was tapping his toe anywhere from two to four times before each pitch.

However, Rodney righted himself. The top tap disappeared, and he was back to the arrow shooting shutdown closer that the Rays had come to expect. Rodney reeled off 18 consecutive saves from May 27th through August 4th, with an ERA of 2.05. His control, which had been awful at the beginning of the year, improved as he was back to striking out over 12 batters per nine innings. Not only was he throwing more strikes, but he was locating much better when he was in the zone, inducing weak contact and generating groundout after groundout when the hitter made contact.

Now, like the villain from a horror movie series, Rodney’s mechanical issues have cropped up once again. The top tap is back, and the results are the same as they were before. Admittedly coming into the game in a rough spot on Wednesday, Rodney allowed both inherited runners to score, blowing his first save since May 25th in the Rays loss to the Diamondbacks. Then, last night, Rodney’s outing was truly disastrous, as he allowed four hits and a walk while recording one out. Even though he was not helped by his defense, as Evan Longoria made an error and Ben Zobrist missed a line drive on a diving attempt in the outfield, the fact remains that the Dodgers were hitting line drives around the park against Rodney.

If there is anything positive to come from this, it is the knowledge that the mechanical issues can be fixed. Rodney managed to rid himself of the toe tap before, with predictably excellent results. However, it is concerning that the issues has cropped up once again. This is something that either pitching coach Jim Hickey, or either catcher, should go to the mound the moment that they see it.

Hopefully, the toe tap will be gone soon, and Fernando Rodney will get back to the pitcher they need him to be. Until that point, it may be time to hold our collective breath again when he comes in with the game on the line.