By: Will Burchfield
Like most people, Jim Leyland read the story and was taken aback.
It didn’t add up in his mind. It didn’t match his own conceptions.
Leyland knows Brad Ausmus as a forthright person and a direct communicator. He knows him as a manager who welcomes conversations with his players.
So when Leyland read Francisco Rodriguez’s eyebrow-raising remarks of Ausmus earlier this week – namely, that Ausmus neglected to talk to Rodriguez about his diminished role in the bullpen – he admits to being a bit confused.
“A lack of communication is not a problem with Brad Ausmus, I can tell you that. He faces everything straight up and he’s straight forward and like he said, his office door is always open. So that part was a little bit confusing to me and everybody else, but I thought Brad did a great job of handling it,” Leyland told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
On Tuesday, K-Rod told the Detroit News that after being demoted from closer in May, neither Ausmus nor pitching coach Rich Dubee talked to him about his new role. Rodriguez pitched in mop-up duty for a while, and lately the Tigers have been moving him back up the bullpen ladder.
“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,” Rodriguez said.
When asked about K-Rod’s comments, Ausmus clarified that he had a 15-minute conversation with Rodriguez about two weeks after he removed him from the closer’s role. The conversation was K-Rod’s request.
“Brad’s really good at this, he keeps things straight up, straight forward,” said Leyland. “There’s no question in my mind that he’s a great communicator. I think that’s probably the only part that threw him off a little bit because, from what I understand, they did have a conversation.”
Even as the Tigers have begun to use Rodriguez in higher-leverage situations, he vented about his smaller role.
“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,” he said.
Aumus said he understood K-Rod’s frustration – “He’s competitive, he wants to be in the fire” – and Leyland did too.
“There’s nothing wrong with Francisco Rodriguez wanting to be the closer, Brad wanted him to be the closer. There’s nothing wrong with things like that, a guy wanting to get back in a role. But as far as the other stuff, like the communication, you gotta make sure you’re accurate when you make those kind of comments,” said Leyland.
The Tigers have called upon K-Rod in a high-leverage spot in each of his last two appearances. On Tuesday, he pitched out of a man-on-second, no-one-out jam in the seventh to keep the score level. On Thursday, he surrendered a game-tying home run in the eighth.
Ausmus said after Thursday night’s game, a 5-3 win for the Tigers, that K-Rod is one of the Tigers’ four best options out of the bullpen, along with Justin Wilson, Shane Greene and Alex Wilson. He’s hoping the Hall of Fame-bound closer can revert to form to take some of the load off the latter two relievers.