By: Will Burchfield
Francisco Rodriguez made some pointed comments on Tuesday afternoon about his diminished role in the Tigers bullpen and the apparent lack of communication between he and manager Brad Ausmus.
On Tuesday night Ausmus responded.
“I’ll talk to him. There’s no ill will toward Frankie. He’s competitive. He wants to be in the fire, and I don’t blame him,” Ausmus said. “And sometimes we’re all human. You get a bunch of reporters asking you once every three days about your role, it’s frustrating, and sometimes that frustration shines through.”
“There’s no ill will toward Frankie,” he reiterated. “I respect Frankie as much as anyone on that team, the way he goes about his business, the way he treats his teammates, the way he works with the relievers in the bullpen. This guy is a class act and he does everything the right way.”
Rodriguez was demoted from his role as closer after blowing four saves in his first 11 opportunities of the season. Since then, he’s pitched mostly in low-leverage situations, with the Tigers hoping he can rediscover his touch.
“They have to test me? They have to find out if I can pitch? That’s exactly what it means. I’ve never been in a mop-up situation. I haven’t pitched the last 15 years, being consistent, putting up numbers being mop-up. That’s not how I’ve made my living,” Rodriguez told the Detroit News.
He added that neither Ausmus nor pitching coach Rich Dubee alerted him of the team’s intentions.
“You talk to Brad more than I have. To be honest, no one talked to me. No one tells me anything. They never ask my opinion. They never ask me if I am ready to do that or not. It was their decision. Nobody asks me anything. Ask Dubee how many times he’s talked to me. They are the ones who have all the answers,” said Rodriguez.
On the contrary, Ausmus said he and K-Rod had a one-on-one conversation when the Tigers were in Houston during the second to last week in May.
“I talked to K-Rod for about 15 minutes in Houston, per his request actually. He texted me the night before and asked me if we could talk, so we talked about him and his situation for about 15 minutes. Other than that it’s just been kind of regular communication. That was specifically about him and how he fits in, and what I saw and what I thought,” Ausmus said.
“We did talk about it, so it’s not like it wasn’t communicated,” he added.
Asked if he feels he needs to do initiate more dialogue on his end, Ausmus gestured toward the door in his office and said, “This door opens from both sides, so players often come in and talk if there’s ever a question. Like I said, in Houston he texted me and the following day I went and found him and we talked. I’ll talk to anyone on this team about anything.”
Ausmus has publicly supported Rodriguez throughout the season. Even when he stripped him of closing duties, he refused to give up on the 16-year veteran.
“I said it at the time when we moved Frankie out of the closer’s role. I think from a broad perspective, we’re better when Frankie’s closing and we have all those guys set up in front of him,” Ausmus said. “It makes us deeper.”
“After we spoke in Houston, I had already had it in my mind and I communicated it to him that we were gonna try and use him in a little higher-leverage situations,” he added.
An effective K-Rod will also help the Tigers keep the rest of their bullpen fresh.
“That’s another reason we wanna get Frankie back in the fold late in games, because we’re gonna wear Alex Wilson and Shane Greene out if we don’t,” said Ausmus. “We need another guy who has that capability. He’s shown he can do it in the past and we think he’s gonna do it again.”
Ausmus proved true to his word on Tuesday night when he brought Rodriguez into a tie game in the seventh with a man on second and no one out. And Rodriguez proved up to the task, retiring the heart of the Diamondbacks’ order to keep the score level.
“Frankie has been one of the best closers in the history of the game for a long time and I agree with him that I think he’s better and has been better in situations where the game is on the line, because he elevates his game and he can take advantage of the hitters with the type of pitcher he is,” Ausmus said. “We had talked about that in Houston and I fully agreed with that assessment.
“Now it’s just a matter of getting him back into situations after we felt like his pitches were coming around and he was throwing like we wanted — and he has been, really, for probably the last few weeks.”
K-Rod hasn’t allowed a run since a May 29 outing in Kansas City. His command has been better and his changeup – his key pitch – has looked more deceptive.
“He’s moving in the right direction,” Ausmus said.
Could the active saves leader regain his role as the Tigers’ closer?
“It’s going to depend a lot on Justin Wilson’s performance, quite frankly. If he really performs well then he’ll probably stay there,” Ausmus said.
Either way, it’s clear the Tigers aren’t closing the book on Rodriguez. Ausmus referred to him as one of the team’s top four relievers, along with the two Wilsons and Greene. K-Rod will likely enjoy hearing that the next time he and Ausmus talk.