Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez is about as laid back a manager as there is in the competitive atmosphere of baseball’s minor leagues.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get on his young players when he thinks it’s needed. The mild-mannered Rodriguez turned up the heat during a recent road trip to Erie, calling a meeting in the clubhouse and then yelling about lackluster play.
“Afterward, I came into my office and said, ‘so, what’s for dinner?’?” he said. “And all the coaches started laughing because they realized it was an act.”
But the players didn’t, which, of course, was the point.
Entering Thursday’s game, the Aeros were seven games under .500 at 23-30, and in fifth place in the Western Division of the Eastern League, nine games behind the Erie SeaWolves.
Rodriguez understands that this isn’t the typical loaded Aeros team gunning for another Eastern League championship. Between the team’s overall youth and constant roster upheaval, the odds are stacked against them.
Last season, the Aeros had 135 roster moves, including 44 through May 30, en route to winning their fourth league title. This season, the Aeros have already made 65 roster moves. The frenzied pace has made it difficult for even Rodriguez to keep up.
“I keep asking my pitching coach [Greg Hibbard], ‘who’s pitching today?’?” Rodriguez said with a laugh. “Then the next question is, ‘who?’?”
Rodriguez wasn’t entirely joking. Even the Aeros’ media relations staff and radio announcers have had trouble keeping up with the team’s moves.
When the Aeros lost veteran pitchers Paolo Espino and reliever Rob Bryson to Triple-A Columbus, a part of the corresponding move was for the Aeros to receive newcomer Rob Whitenack, who ended up starting Tuesday and pushing back the scheduled starter for an extra day.
New to the Indians’ organization and coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, Whitenack struggled from the start in his Canal Park debut, walking eight batters in four innings.
But with his roster in constant flux, Rodriguez could do nothing to rescue Whitenack until going to his bullpen in the fifth inning in a 9-1 blowout loss.
“I felt very helpless,” Rodriguez said. “Not only from the game standpoint, but for [Whitenack] and the guys behind him.”
Rodriguez expected some struggles this season, leading a team that includes a handful of players that skipped the high Class-A level before Double-A on the organizational ladder.
“There’s a reason why I’m here,” said Rodriguez, who managed at high Class-A Carolina last season. “[The Indians’ player development department] knew we’d have a young team.”
When Rodriguez – whose forte is developing young players – was asked where he’d like to manage this season, he initially said he’d prefer to stay “in the lower levels.”
“But they said, ‘yeah, but we’re going to have a young team in Akron, we need you there,’?” he said.
Rodriguez and his veteran coaching staff were prepared for the youthful mistakes, but the heavy turnover has made it an even more daunting task than expected.
“If we play the game right, that’s good enough,” he said. “Throw strikes, run the bases right, make the routine play, throw it to the right base. If we lose, then so be it. But play the game right and talent will take care of itself.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.