MOOSIC — When Eddy Rodriguez puts his catcher’s gear on and crouches down behind the plate he becomes one of the best backstops in the International League.
However, when he steps into the batter’s box, it’s a completely different situation. He’s sporting a team-low .178 batting average and has struck out in 134 of 270 at-bats.
That’s the conundrum the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders catcher faces every time he comes to the field.
“It’s definitely been an interesting season,” Rodriguez said. “This has been an opportunity that I’ve been waiting for, for I don’t know how long since I’ve been in this game, to be in a position, to be in Triple-A, to potentially be the next guy. Defensively, I think extremely highly of myself — not only in the things in between the ears, but numbers-wise, what I’ve been able to do. On the offensive side, that’s been the hardest thing for me.
“Not only the fact of the failure, but the failure with leaving guys on base, the failure of being able to still go and catch a game and not leave my pitcher stranded while I’m 0 for 4 with four strikeouts and I haven’t an idea how I’m going to make contact on the fifth at-bat. That’s kind of been the big challenge for me.”
There have been times this season when Rodriguez has had success at the plate. From April 22 to May 19, the veteran catcher was one of the RailRiders better hitters, posting a .340 batting average with four doubles, four home runs, eight runs and 12 RBI.
However, everything around that has been mostly downhill for Rodriguez, and that has been the tough part for the catcher. He’s had to balance his failures at the plate with his responsibility to lead a young pitching staff.
“I’m not a guy to throw things, slam things, yell stuff. Trust me, I’ve wanted to do that several times, but the reason that I never really do is, it doesn’t really fix anything,” Rodriguez said. “If I have an issue I’ll talk to Jonathan Diaz — sit and have a glass of wine and talk things over. That’s been the challenge, being able to have so much failure on the offensive side and then all the success on the defensive side.
“The thing too is the dangling of the carrot there for a two-week period where I felt extremely competitive at the plate and feeling that and then just going on what has felt kind of just a big downward spiral offensively, that’s been hard. I’ve managed to stay on pace with my pitchers and last I looked, I think we lead the league in ERA and that’s a pretty good complement.”
If you ask Rodriguez’s batterymates, the catcher’s offensive troubles haven’t influenced the pitching one bit.
RailRiders right-handed starter Chance Adams joined the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation in May from Double-A Trenton. It took some time to build a trust between the pair, but Adams says he has complete confidence in the veteran catcher.
“He always has an interest game plan behind there and I trust him. The only time I shake is if I’m more confident with a pitch that night,” Adams said. “He’s a veteran presence. I haven’t had like older catchers like him before. I would say that’s one of the big things. He knows the game really well. He’s been around for a while. Knows what to do, knows how to act and always gives me good advice.”
While Rodriguez has consistently been the RailRiders’ best catcher this season, throwing out a team-high .442 percent of base runners on 52 attempts and has allowed three passed balls in 82 games behind the plate, as he continues to seek success in the batter’s box. Something he’s been looking for since June.
RailRiders hitting coach P.J. Pilittere said he’s been working with Rodriguez to get him to consistently stay on his legs, stay balanced “a little bit better” so his swing is timed up better. Consistency overall has been the key.
“We can’t control the results out there sometimes. All you can control is the way you prepare and they way you go about your business every day,” Pilittere said. “Him being a veteran guy on this team, he knows people are looking to him to put forth that work ethic every single day. Trust me, he’s not a guy that just kind of goes through the motions. He’s putting in a lot of work before he goes out there and plays each night. It’s a testament to him to try to stay on the straight and narrow line and prepare himself to play every day.”