MOOSIC — At this point in his career, Eddy Rodriguez puts his pitchers first and his at-bats second.
He doesn’t even think about his upcoming at-bats until he’s in the on-deck circle.
Instead, when he’s in the dugout and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are batting, he’s talking to his pitchers and developing a plan for the next inning instead of focusing on the opposing pitcher. But as of late, Rodriguez’s offense has been at the forefront, while still keeping is pitchers on point.
After delivering the RailRiders (21-16) a 8-4 win thanks to a 12th-inning walk-off grand slam Monday against the Pawtucket Red Sox, Rodriguez was the difference again Wednesday. The 32-year-old catcher homered twice, including a go-ahead, two-run shot in the eighth inning en route to a 9-8 victory over the Red Sox (15-20).
“I get immersed in my pitchers,” Rodriguez said. “Don’t get me wrong, I expect to succeed when I go up to the plate, but anything I always do offensively is a plus.
“I’m an offensive lineman. I’m worried about protecting my quarterback.”
Rodriguez had a pair of two-run home runs in the win for his third and fourth of the season, all coming against the Red Sox.
Owning a .196 batting average heading into a May 10 game in Pawtucket, Rodriguez went 1 for 2 with a two-run home run in the RailRiders’ 5-2 win. The home run was the start of a five-game hitting streak for the veteran catcher.
He’s 8 for 20 during the stretch, with four home runs, five runs scored and 10 RBI. Rodriguez was 3 for 4 with a pair of home runs, two runs scored and four RBI in Wednesday’s win.
“Over the last three weeks I haven’t had to worry about mechanics,” Rodriguez said. “For about 12 years I’ve had to worry about my mechanics, about my elbow goes here, my leg goes here, but the last few weeks I’ve found something that’s comfortable, something that’s strong — that I feel offensive with. Now I’m just playing with the pitcher — me and the pitcher — where he’s going to throw me. I like to think one of my skills as a catcher is to call a game, so I’m using that to my advantage as much as I can.”
While Rodriguez made the Red Sox pay at the plate, RailRiders manager Al Pedrique showed faith in reliever Ben Heller. The lanky right-hander blew a 6-6 tie in the eighth inning only to recover in the ninth, picking up the win.
Heller allowed the first five Red Sox to reach base to start the inning, with Ryan Court knocking in Sam Travis on an RBI single to right field and Matt Dominguez reaching first base on a fielder’s choice while Steve Selsky scored. The 25-year-old forced Pawtucket second baseman Jantez Witte to hit into a double play to end the inning with the RailRiders down 8-6.
As his teammates picked him up bottom half of the eighth, scoring three runs to take the lead, Heller was able to compose himself before he took the mound in the top of the ninth.
With men on the corners and just one out, Heller struck out two of Pawtucket’s best hitters in Travis and Selsky to end the game. The pair were a combined 3 for 7 with a home run, four runs scored and three RBI.
“I felt like I really just made some good pitches there (in the ninth),” Heller said. “I threw sliders that they’re the shape that I’m looking for. I felt that I threw them with good intensity, kind of executed exactly where I wanted to and to be in the situation where I helped the team finish off a win. I was just pretty pumped up.
“That’s all you can ask for as a player. It really does go a long way knowing that your manager and pitching coach believe in you.”
On the injury front
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre placed catcher Kyle Higashioka on the seven-day disabled list on Wednesday. The move was retroactive to Monday, when the 27-year-old was a late scratch from the starting lineup with an abdominal injury to his left side.
“We’re going to give him time,” Pedrique said. “He didn’t feel 100 percent today, so we’re not going to take any chances. That’s what New York decided to do.”
While the RailRiders lost a player Wednesday, they could be getting one back soon in third baseman Donovan Solano, who’s been on the DL with a calf injury since April 27.
Solano took batting practice for the third time on Wednesday, and said he was feeling much better. He’s also took ground balls Tuesday and Wednesday and will start running longer distances, according to Pedrique.
However, there’s still no timetable for his return.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Red Sox will finish off their four-game series Thursday morning. Righty Domingo German will make his Triple-A debut and will face Pawtucket right-hander Kyle Kendrick (1-3, 6.00).
First pitch is scheduled for 10:35 a.m.
RailRiders 9, Pawtucket 8
E: Dominguez (1), Olmos (1); PB: Rodriguez (1); DP: Red Sox 2, RailRiders 1; LOB: Red Sox 9 RailRiders 10; 2B: Castillo (8), Refsnyder (9); HR: Castillo (4), Travis (4), Ford (2), Rodriguez 2 (4); SB: Travis (2), Dominguez (1).
Rmirz (BS 1)(L 0-1)`0.2`1`1`1`0`0
Heller (W 1-3)`2.0`4`2`2`1`4
WP: Ramirez, Heller.
Umpires: Blake Carnahan, HP; Mike Wiseman, 1B; Jeremy Riggs, 3B.
Time: 2:33; Att: 5,098.