4/12/2014 5:44 P.M. ET
Rodriguez locking down ninth-inning duties
By JR Radcliffe / Special to MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- Ron Roenicke has been on hand to witness many of Francisco Rodriguez's 307 career saves, so it's natural to think the Brewers' manager feels a sense of comfort in bringing K-Rod out for the ninth inning. Thus far, there hasn't been any reason to feel anything less.
Rodriguez has fanned eight of the last nine batters he's seen, and he's allowed just one batter to reach -- a Justin Upton single on Opening Day -- in five shutdown innings. Rodriguez has taken a firm hold on a closer's role that technically remains open for discussion.
"Even though I still don't think he's built up the fastball to where it's going to get to, he's still got really good life on it and he locates it well, and his offspeed pitches are great," Roenicke said. "With Frankie, because he's got such good stuff and he throws any pitch in any count, there's usually a walk in there somewhere. And he's coming out and throwing strikes. He's getting a lot of foul balls on his fastball and he's painting to get some freezes on strikeouts."
Rodriguez has 11 strikeouts and zero walks in his five innings of work. The last time he struck out at least 11 batters over five appearances, without yielding at least one walk in that same stretch, was 2004. Roenicke was there for that, part of the Angels' coaching staff from 2000-10, a tenure that corresponded with Rodriguez's six full seasons with the club.
"His breaking ball is different than when he first came to the big leagues," Roenicke said. "It was more of a shorter, harder slider. It still had some big depth to it, but it was thrown hard. Last year, he probably pitched from 90 to 92 [miles per hour], but the thing is, he came up with the changeup, too. The last year he was in Anaheim, he came up with the changeuep, and the first day he threw it, it was a strikeout changeup."
Rodriguez, who signed a one-year free-agent contract to return to Milwaukee, got a late jump on camp when a visa issue kept him in Venezuela, but he caught up quickly at Spring Training.
"Coming into camp, I was expecting just to get my work in and try to catch up with the guys because of the visa issue, trying to catch up to them and get as much work in as possible and let the rest take care of itself," Rodriguez said. "I wasn't thinking middle reliever, I wasn't thinking setup or closer. I was just coming in hoping to get as much work as possible and see how it goes.
"Right now, I have pretty good command of all of it. If you can throw strikes with any pitch and throw it the way you want to, things are going to be easy for you."
Though Jim Henderson was tentatively expected to open the season as the club's closer, Roenicke summoned Rodriguez to grab the save on Opening Day. Henderson, who threw a scoreless inning Friday and seems to have rediscovered lost speed on his fastball, has yet to allow a run this season. But the job appears to be Rodriguez's to lose.
"That's kind of what happened with Henderson and [John] Axford," Roenicke said, referring to the 2013 season. "Henderson kind of went into [Axford's] spot and was lights out, and all of a sudden Ax started throwing really well. They were in the same position."
Henderson and Rodriguez are both primary reasons why the Brewers' bullpen led the Majors with a 0.91 ERA and .149 opponent batting average entering Saturday. The 'pen had struck out 40 batters in just shy of 30 innings.
"I say, 'Frankie do you need a day off?' and he'll look at the schedule and see when our next scheduled day off is,'" Roenicke said. "He has to throw six days to know he's going good. Sometimes that makes me a little nervous, but I know he's there every day. Now I just worry about [innings] six, seven, eight.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.