Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez (57) celebrates with catcher Jonathan Lucroy after picking up a save to help the Brewers beat the Mets, 3-2, on Tuesday. Rodriguez's scoreless inning on Tuesday lowered his ERA to 1.04, and opponents are hitting just .151 against him.
Benny Sieu/Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
MILWAUKEE — As Francisco Rodriguez is figuring out, being a closer on a last-place team means an inconsistent workload.
Rodriguez received his first shot at a save in 12 days on Tuesday and worked a scoreless ninth inning in Milwaukee’s 3-2 victory over the New York Mets to stay a perfect 14 for 14 in save opportunities on the season.
The veteran reliever has appeared in just 26 of the Brewers’ 72 games, leaving him on pace to pitch in just 58 games this season. That would mark the fewest appearances he’s had in a year in which he was on an Opening Day roster since 2010.
"I just find ways to stay sharp," Rodriguez said. "We are almost to July. I don’t feel like I’m there yet as far as arm strength. I’m the type of pitcher that the more that I pitch the better I feel, so hopefully we can get on a streak and I can start pitching more often."
Although the workload has been light, Rodriguez has been sharp all year long. His scoreless inning Tuesday lowered his ERA to 1.04, while opponents are hitting just .151 against him.
Only three closers in baseball — Rodriguez, Minnesota’s Glen Perkins and New York’s Andrew Miller — have at least 14 saves on the season without a blown save.
"I think what’s been impressive is that he’s just been dominant doing it," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It’s 1-2-3 innings. And he’s been really sharp every time out there making pitches. So, pitching a lot, not pitching a lot, it’s been sharp. He’s been sharp every time out there."
Rodriguez, who sits in ninth place on the all-time saves list at 362, has gone three or more days without pitching on 10 different occasions this season. He says he’s increased how much he’s thrown long toss and off of flat ground in order to stay sharp.
"Sometimes people think having six days without pitching you will come in and be strong, but it is the other way around," Rodriguez said. "Everything is up. You are out of rhythm. Yeah you feel loose, but not quite where you are supposed to be. You pitch two or three days in a row and in the third one in four days you are going to be sharp.
"It looks like it is going to be 50 outings in a year. I’m used to 70-plus every year. I have to ramp it up a little bit."
Rodriguez pitched in 69 games a year ago. He only appeared in 48 games in 2013, but that was due to him signing a minor-league deal with the Brewers in mid-April and not pitching in the big leagues until May.
The five-time All-Star has led baseball in games finished three times in his career, including in 2014 with 66.
"This is not my first rodeo," Rodriguez said. "If it would have happened to me seven years ago I would have been in trouble because I wouldn’t have known how to handle it.
"It happened to me in New York. I wasn’t sharp at all. I think I ended up with 30-something saves in 60 or so games (25 saves in 53 games in 2010). I threw a lot the year before. The more I pitch the better I feel. I need to be out there more often."
Whether or not Rodriguez remains with Milwaukee past the July 31 trade deadline remains to be seen. Currently 20 games under .500, the Brewers are undoubtedly going to be sellers at the deadline.
There’s no need for a last place or a rebuilding team to keep a closer if they can get something for one.
"Definitely we need to get (out) of where we are now," Rodriguez said. "We don’t want to be in this position. Honestly, we don’t. We keep searching for answers every day in the clubhouse. Right before the game, the energy and attitude, everything is there. We go out there and things are not clicking in. We’ve been really inconsistent. It has been a roller coaster as far as that.
"We need to find a way and go out there and have fun. It doesn’t seem like we are having fun out there. Every time we don’t make a play the game is over to us because we put our head down. We’re not fighting like we are supposed to do. That’s something we need to find a way to get better at to get better results overall."
Rodriguez, who re-signed with the Brewers during the first week of spring training, is owed $5.5 million in 2016 and has a $6 million option with a $4 million buyout for 2017.
While his performance may make Rodriguez an attractive option for teams looking for bullpen help at the deadline, clubs may shy away due to the money he’s owed. The 33-year-old again made clear his desire to stay in Milwaukee on Tuesday. Rodriguez could have left the Brewers in each of the past four offseasons but has decided to return.
"I’d be disappointed if I get traded," Rodriguez said. "Because I signed two years-plus just to be here. If I didn’t believe this ballclub would be better and compete in the future, I would have gone someplace else. I had different options I could have gone with.
"But at the end of the day, it is something that is out of my hands. I don’t make the decisions. But definitely it is there. You have to think about it, unfortunately. But I’m not putting too much pressure on thinking about it because it is going to be bad if I do that."
Rodriguez views this situation as different from when the Brewers traded him to Baltimore in July 2013.
"That year I came to camp late," Rodriguez said. "I was signed when the season had started. I think it was a couple of months into the season. I thought there was a 90 percent chance I was going to be traded. I was expecting that. But even then I wasn’t ready for it.. I changed roles over there and had to try to fit in. It was hard for me and my family. It didn’t work out well.
"It is something I would like to avoid. I haven’t been thinking about (being traded again) because it is going to be hard. I don’t want to be bouncing around with three little ones. But at the end of the day, it is not my choice or my decision. We’ll see."