If the Joey Gallo trade went down as initially expected on July 29, Joely Rodríguez may have been pitching against the Yankees in the Bronx on Monday night.
The Rangers’ blockbuster deal with New York originally included a different left-handed throw-in. The plan was to send John King to the Yankees, but that idea was scrapped over medical concerns. With Gallo the main focus, the Yankees settled on Rodríguez, whose numbers were far worse than King’s at the time.
The 29-year-old came to New York after recording a 5.39 ERA in 27.1 innings for Texas, but Rodríguez has been an entirely different pitcher for the Yankees. He owns a 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings since the trade, pitching more as a lefty-on-lefty weapon with New York.
“He’s a problem for lefties,” Aaron Boone said after New York’s 4-3 win over the Rangers on Monday. “Of all our lefties down there, he’s that one true left on left that we want that matchup anytime their best left-handed hitter [is up]. If we can get him in that situation, he’s got the stuff.”
The manager explained that Rodríguez’s twisty, cross-firing delivery makes him “a real problem” for lefties, who are hitting just .182 against him this season. But Rodríguez didn’t get the port-side swinger he was brought in for Monday, as Nathaniel Lowe lucked into a perfectly placed infield single in the eighth.
With New York up one and two runners on, the three-batter minimum forced Rodríguez to pitch against the right-handed Nick Solak with two outs. Righties are hitting well over .300 against Rodríguez this year, but Solak chased a changeup in the dirt, ending the threat.
It was the only out Rodríguez recorded before Aroldis Chapman took over in the ninth.
The high-leverage strikeout against a mismatch continued a run of excellence that Rodríguez has been on since allowing two earned runs in his second Yankees appearance. That was on Aug. 2. He owns a 1.35 ERA in 17 games since then, striking out 14 over 13.1 innings.
Rodríguez’s strikeout rate is nearly identical to the one he posted with Texas, but he has cut his walk rate from 9.4% to 7.9%. He has also decreased the use of his fastball since coming to New York, favoring his other pitches, primarily his sinker and changeup.
All that, along with his more narrowly defined role, has turned Rodríguez from a deadline afterthought to a valued member of New York’s pen down the stretch.
“He’s an important guy down there,” Boone said, “and he’s unique to everyone else that we have.”
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