CLEVELAND — Jefry Rodriguez was tagged for four runs on two home runs in an ugly loss for the Indians on Friday night but, in terms of Rodriguez's long-term progress, manager Terry Francona saw some bright spots.
His main takeaway was that Rodriguez focused on his curveball with mostly positive results. And, the two curveballs that were sent over the right-center wall were right where they were supposed to be. Previously, Rodriguez's curveball had been little more than a pitch to keep hitters off balance.
“You know, I thought it was the best he’s thrown, actually," Francona said. "He’ll learn. I still thought he threw the ball really well. He threw more breaking balls tonight by far than he has in any other outing. I just think he’s fun to watch get better.”
In his first four starts, Rodriguez threw his curveball between 13 and 17 times and never had more than two swings and misses in any outing. Against the Baltimore Orioles, that was upped to 33 curveballs with eight swings and misses.
Rodriguez relies on a sinking movement with his pitches, and the curveball is a key avenue for him to change velocities. The development of that pitch, then, could be a key component to his ability to keep adjusting to the league on the fly.
"And there's gonna be games where you don't have your best stuff, and I don't necessarily think that's a regression," Francona said Saturday. "I just think that when young pitchers don't have a lot of innings at the upper levels, when he's pitching every five days and you see him competing and not backing down and getting a little better of a feel for his breaking ball, changeup, at the major league level, it's hard to do that, and he's accomplishing that."
Both home runs the Orioles hit Friday night came off curveballs, but Rodriguez didn't wish he had either back. The first, a three-run shot by Jonathan Villar, was on a curveball down in the zone but over the middle of the plate. Francona didn't mind the pitch, but thought Rodriguez could have gone for the ground ball, essentially giving up the tying run by limiting the damage.
The second homer, by Stevie Wilkerson, was golfed out of the ballpark on a curveball below the zone.
"By no means were they mistakes," Rodriguez said through a team translator. "They were part of the plan and we executed in that way but also they executed and they executed their job."
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.