Addition of changeup helps Rodriguez improve
BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – The addition of one pitch has translated into huge success for Nevada Wolf Pack pitcher Ryan Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who developed a changeup in the offseason to go along with his fastball and slider, entered this season with a career 5.54 earned run average and he had allowed more hits than innings pitched the previous three years.
The extra pitch has made him a better pitcher, as his 4-5 record and 2.81 ERA would indicate. In 77 innings, Rodriguez, a senior, has struck out 75 batters and allowed only 62 hits. Opponents are hitting a paltry .221 against him. Considering he is a starter and not a reliever, that’s an impressive number.
“It (the changeup) is quality,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to get to a point where I could throw any of my pitches for my strike at any time. It’s a pitch I go to, especially against left-handed hitters. To right-handers, I still like to use the slider, because it’s breaking away from right-handers and is a tough pitch to hit.
“A few games this year could have gone either way. It’s a credit to my defense. They have made plays behind me. I’ve pitched to (catcher) Konrad (Schmidt, a senior transfer), and it always seems like we’re on the same page. He’s thrown guys out at second and he’s picked guys off. Much of the time he’ll know the pitch I want to throw in certain situations. As a hitter, he knows what hitters are looking for.”
One thing that Nevada coach Gary Powers pointed out was that for Rodriguez’s first three years, he threw both his fastball and slider at the same speed. That enabled hitters to get locked in, at least to the speed of the pitch.
“Having that third pitch has made a world of difference in his performance on a daily basis,” Powers said. “That third pitch changes a hitter’s approach. Now he has three pitches to worry about instead of two. If a pitcher is a two-pitch pitcher, and one of those pitches isn’t working, the hitter knows what is coming.
“It’s not an easy pitch to master. You have to throw it with the same arm motion that you do your other pitches. It’s all feel.”
Powers said the changeup has enabled Rodriguez to be more consistent than in past seasons. That, and Rodriguez’s experience, has enabled him to slip comfortably in the No. 1 starter’s role.
“I couldn’t think of a better guy to assume that role any better than he has,” Powers said. “He’s competitive. He’s more experienced, and knows what he has to do on a daily basis to do his job.”
“This is my year to start that first game on Friday,” Rodriguez said. “I want to win that first game for my teammates so badly. I want to get that first one for them and get the series off to a good start. I want to set the pace.”
And, for the most part, he’s done a good job of that. Twice he allowed only one earned run and either got a loss or no decision. In a start against UNLV, he allowed three runs and six hits in 7 1/3 innings and received a disappointing no decision.
His best games were against Pacific (no runs, two hits, seven innings), Utah Valley State (no runs, seven hits, nine innings) and New Mexico State (no runs, six hits, eight innings).
In the win over New Mexico State, Rodriguez could have at least started the ninth, but Powers’ decision didn’t bother the Wolf Pack ace in the slightest.
“To go out there and open a series like that, especially on the road, is nice,” Rodriguez said. “It’s good to start off with win (15-0) like we did. There were pitchers that needed work and we were up by a lot. It was a short week (his next start was last Thursday against Fresno State). One less day. That’s fine with me.”
Besides developing a new pitch, another big improvement has been his ability to bounce back from a big inning. In past years, he would implode and then be unable to right the ship. He’s been able to wipe out a bad inning this year and move on.
In the Pack’s season-opener against Saint Mary’s, Rodriguez was cruising along with a shutout, but he gave up four runs in the seventh, and he got a no-decision in a 5-4 loss.
“They got four runs in seven pitches,” Rodriguez said. “The hitters were waiting for strikes, and I just go up there (on the hill) and threw strikes. I was working at the same speed even when I got into trouble.
“Slowing the game down has helped out a lot. I know now that I don’t have to throw a strike on every pitch to be effective. I don’t have to strike guys out. I can get two groundball outs instead. That may be the biggest thing I’ve learned since my freshman season is. It’s still an out.”
Against Fresno State last Thursday, he gave up five runs in one inning and found himself in an early hole. He rebounded to throw four scoreless innings and keep his team in the game. Nevada’s ninth-inning rally fell short by a run, 7-6.
A new pitch and a more mature attitude could mean a future in baseball for the former McQueen High School star, who throws in the low 90s.
“If I get that shot, I’d definitely take it,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always wanted to play pro ball if I got the chance to go play.”
• Contact Darrell moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281
STANFORD (13-15) AT NEVADA (20-17)
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Where: Peccole Park
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