His father is a Hall of Fame catcher, but Dereck Rodríguez was destined for the mound. Now he’s setting his sights on a return to the San Francisco Giants.
In his second season with the Giants’ organization, Rodríguez was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento on July 1.
He made his first appearance at Greater Nevada Field against the Reno Aces on Friday night with 6,612 fans in attendance. Rodríguez surrendered three earned runs on four hits and four strikeouts in four innings.
The son of 14-time All-Star Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez, Dereck transitioned from catcher to outfielder at Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Rodríguez, 27, discovered his pitching talents in 2014 after turning pro. He was converted to a reliever with the Elizabethton Twins, the Rookie-league affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Since then, Rodríguez has developed a quick grasp on the rubber with the seams in his right hand. It’s transformed him into an up-and-coming starter with the San Francisco Giants.
“I only threw around seven or eight innings in high school,” he said. “That’s when I first really started pitching before I pitched full-time in 2014. I was a quick learner and it stuck with me ever since.”
His outing in downtown Reno was solid.
“The crowd really gets into it,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to play here. The field is great and the way the ball flies out here is always something. It was fun pitching here.”
Rodríguez possesses an advanced five-pitch mix with plenty of velocity to keep opposing batters off guard.
The right-hander is equipped with a four-seam fastball and sinker to complement a slider, curveball and changeup. Aces third baseman Wyatt Mathisen and left fielder Cody Decker were victims on Friday of his low-90s sinker that broke away from the plate.
Rodríguez’s approach on the mound all starts with setting up his heat before dishing out his choice of three deceptive off-speed pitches.
“I have to establish my fastball,” he said. “When I establish the fastball, everything else falls off of that. That’s when I throw in my curveball for strikes and my slider plays well off of it too.”
Rodríguez made the most of his big-league debut with the Giants last season. He sported a 6-4 record and 2.81 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 118.1 innings.
Following a solid rookie season, the rest of the league had a scouting report on the young hurler this season. His ERA rose to 5.27 and he’s surrendered 10 home runs in just 17 games. Rodriguez has struggled to find his command with San Francisco, and opposing batters are making him pay with pitches that take up too much of the plate.
“They made an adjustment to my pitches from last year,” he said. “That’s why it’s the big leagues. There’s around 750 of the best guys and 25 of the best players in the world on one roster. They got a good look at me this year and my command needs to improve.”
Rodríguez’s bumpy sophomore season continued when he was pulled from the starting rotation and utilized as a middle inning reliever out of the bullpen. He’s started just eight games with the Giants this year.
Coming out of the bullpen, Rodríguez learned to bring his best stuff with him.
“It was a big adjustment, something I’ve never done before,” he said. “Your whole routine is thrown off. As a starter, you know what days you throw so you have the prep and routines. Out of the bullpen, you’re hot every night so I have to be ready to go every single night.”
Rodríguez was born in Arlington, Texas, when his father was in the midst of his second season with the Texas Rangers. His baseball roots began playing Little League in Florida at 10 years old.
Dereck didn’t follow in his dad’s footsteps. He found his own love for the game with the help of Iván’s guidance and support in the stands during his games.
“I’ve always loved the game,” he said. “My dad was always at the field during my Little League games and cheering me on. … Most of the time, he saw me play a lot. He showed me the steps and guided me to where I’m at. If he wouldn’t have taught me, I don’t know what I would be doing.”
Like his dad, Rodríguez, nicknamed “son of Pudge,” had the traits behind the dish. He played catcher up until his freshman year with the Monsignor Pace Spartans. But a recent growth spurt to his now 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame made it uncomfortable crouched down.
He transitioned to a versatile outfielder, instead.
“I wasn’t a big fan of (catching),” he said. “I had grown a little bit and with the growing pains squatting down, it was tough. I didn’t like squatting down that much so I was done with it.”
The Minnesota Twins selected Rodríguez in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB Draft. His strong arm in the outfield outweighed his consistent struggles at the plate during his stint in the Twins’ Rookie-league.
Rodriguez’s defensive presence in the outfield sparked Minnesota to give him a try as a pitcher. The decision paid dividends toward his bright future on the mound.
“I always had a good arm so the Twins thought it was a good idea,” he said. “I did a bullpen session and I must’ve impressed them because I didn’t stick in the outfield very long. It helped protect my arm so it’s paid off to this point.”
Since his first bullpen appearance in 2014, Rodríguez has taken off. He racked up 51 starts over three seasons in the minors and was named to the Puerto Rican national baseball team for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Rodríguez signed a minor league contract with the Giants that same season and has made an immediate impact with the big-league club.
Before his return to San Francisco, Rodríguez plans to make the necessary changes in Sacramento.
“There’s always room for adjustments,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing is to put in work down here for a better second half.”
— Isaiah Burrows
Seventh inning collapse leads to Aces’ loss
Matt Koch pitched six solid innings, but a four-run seventh propelled the River Cats past the Aces 5-1 on Saturday at Greater Nevada Field.
Koch surrendered one earned run on three hits and two walks in six innings of work. Ryan Atkinson took over in the seventh and gave up four runs and didn’t record a single out.
The rest of the Reno bullpen stopped the bleeding, but it was too late. The River Cats’ pitching staff tossed a shutout through seven innings.
Sacramento starter Conner Menez tossed six scoreless innings, giving up just three hits with eight strikeouts. He earned his first win on the year.
Reno had just six hits. Yasmany Tomás went 1-for-3 with a solo blast over to the Sacramento bullpen in right field. Juniel Querecuto was 2-for-4. Kevin LaChance recorded his first career Triple-A hit.
Sacramento plated the first run of the contest in the fourth inning. The River Cats poured it on with four more in the seventh. Reno scored its only run in the eighth off Tomás’ homer.
Notes: The Aces have three walk-off homers this season. … Reno is 23-20 at home and 7-5 on Saturday. … Seven of the last eight games played by the Aces have been decided by one run.
On Deck: Reno, 39-49, faces Sacramento for the final game of the four-game series at 1:05 p.m. Sunday at Greater Nevada Field. Braden Shipley is expected to take the hill for the Aces. Andrew Suarez is the probable starting pitcher for the River Cats.