JUPITER, Fla. – Regardless of how Wandy Rodriguez pitched Friday night against the Marlins, the veteran left-hander had pretty much secured a spot in the Braves rotation, manager Fredi Gonzalez said before the game.
But Rodriguez pitched as if he intended to erase any remaining doubt, tossing five hitless innings and allowing three walks with seven strikeouts to run his scoreless innings streak to 12 over his past three starts. The only run he allowed all spring came in a one-inning outing against the Mets in the Grapefruit League opener.
“It’s not make or break, really,” Gonzalez said beforehand of the importance of Friday’s game to Rodriguez’s candidacy. “This is a veteran guy, we brought him in to get one of these spots. Now all of a sudden two are available because (Mike) Minor is shut down for a little bit.
“So I think the chances of him making this club are really, really good. No matter whether he gives up 10 today or throws a one-hitter. Because you like what you’ve seen, you like what he’s done in the past, and so yeah, as far as today – just let him go out and pitch.”
Afer the game, a 5-1 Braves loss at Roger Dean Stadium, Gonzalez confirmed Rodriguez would be in the rotation when the season begins in just over two weeks.
“The way he’s pitched, he’s earned a shot in this rotation,” said Gonzalez, adding that his comments prior to the game about Rodriguez being in the rotation weren’t exactly going out on a limb. “I mean, who else? We gave him a chance to sign here and gave him an opportunity. With Mike going down, he’s your most logical choice.”
Rodriguez said, “I’ll be happy with that. Because that’s what I’m working for. I want to be there.”
He threw 49 strikes in 80 pitches, and the Braves’ bid for a second no-hitter of spring training ended soon after Rodriguez left the game: lefty Luis Avilan gave up a one-out single to Christian Yelich in the sixth inning. Corner outfielders Eric Young Jr. and Zoilo Almonte each misplayed a flyball into a double in that three-run inning to erase the Braves’ 1-0 lead.
Rodriguez, 36, joins the rotation already set with with Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller, leaving three main candidates for the fifth and final spot: veteran lefty Eric Stults, prospect Mike Foltynewicz and fringe prospect Cody Martin, one of the pleasant surprises in camp with eight scoreless innings.
Lefty prospect Manny Banuelos and lefty reliever have previously been mentioned as rotation possibilities, but are realistically more viable candidates for long-relief roles at this point, or Banuelos for a Triple-A rotation spot.
Minor has not pitched in a game because of rotator-cuff inflammation and will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. It seems safe to assume he’ll be on the DL at least until May.
Rodriguez has allowed one run and six hits in 13 innings this spring, with eight walks and 12 strikeouts. After giving up a run against the Mets March 4, he has limited the Nationals, Astros and Marlins to a combined four hits and six walks in 12 innings.
“I used a lot of my two-seamer tonight, and I had a good one,” said Rodriguez, who struck out Marlins slugger Giancarolo Stanton both times he faced him. “I worked really good (against) him, I go in-out, in-out… I threw close to him; I know he’s maybe a little scared because he got hit (in the face by a pitch late in the 2014 season). I don’t want to hit him, but I try to work him in, go in and out with him.”
After failing a physical with the Phillies in December due to a previous knee injury, Rodriguez signed a minor league contract with the Braves in January with an invitation to spring training. He will make $2 million if he’s on the major league team.
Rodriguez and Stults, another non-roster invitee, can opt out of their contracts just before opening day if they’re not on the major league roster. The Braves are likely to get trade offers for each between now and opening day.
Various injuries, including a forearm strain, limited Rodriguez to just 18 major league starts in the past two seasons, and he was 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in six starts with Pittsburgh in 2014.
Asked about his health now, Rodriguez smiled and said, “Everything’s perfect right now.”
Once a fixture at or near the top of the Astros rotation, Rodriguez won nine or more games in eight consecutive seasons through 2012 with the Astros and Pirates, including 11 or more wins in each of the last four seasons of that period.