TUCSON — Francisco Rodriguez
has gained enough confidence in his changeup to add it to his regular-season repertoire, but unless the Angel closer re-establishes his fastball, the impact of a second off-speed pitch will be minimal.
"For his changeup to be effective he has to pitch off his fastball," Oakland slugger Eric Chavez
said. "You can't go curve, curve, changeup, because they're all the same speed. For some reason he got away from his heater last year. He became a one-pitch pitcher, and you could sit on the curve."
Though Rodriguez threw more fastballs than breaking balls in 2005, he seemed to use the fastball more when he was behind in the count and needed a strike. He'd often try to get ahead of hitters with his breaking ball. When he was in a bind, he usually threw a breaking ball.
That's understandable. Rodriguez, who tied for the American League lead with 45 saves in 2005, has one of baseball's best breaking balls, a pitch to which he gives two distinct looks.
One is a looping curve that starts high and outside and drops into the strike zone. The other is a sharp-breaking slider that starts near the knees and darts into the dirt.
But Rodriguez also has a 94-mph fastball, and it can be a devastating pitch when he locates it on the corners. For some reason, though, Rodriguez didn't seem to have much confidence in it last season.
Asked if he got away from his fastball, Rodriguez said, "Maybe. It depends on the situation. When the game was on the line, I'd throw more breaking pitches…. But I got behind and walked too many people trying to throw breaking balls early. This year I want to establish the fastball early, attack and put them away with breaking balls."
Rodriguez also plans to work the changeup, a pitch he seldom threw last season but one pitching coach Bud Black
has encouraged him to throw more this spring, into his game plan. Against the A's on Thursday, Rodriguez threw a first-pitch changeup to Freddie Bynum
, who looked fooled.
"It was pretty obvious he wasn't expecting it, because he looked bad when he swung and missed," Rodriguez said. "It's not like I'm going to use it every game. I just want to get a feel for it, to gain enough trust in it to be able to throw it in any count."
It's just as important for hitters to think
Rodriguez will throw the changeup as it is for the right-hander to do it.
"The changeup is a good pitch to have if you have a guy 0 and 2," Chavez said, "because the hitter has to keep it in the back of his mind."
If Garret Anderson
, out since March 7 because of strained plantar fascia tissue in his left foot, is relegated to designated hitter for the first few weeks of the season, the chances of veteran Tim Salmon
forging a role are remote.
But that doesn't mean Salmon, who is returning from shoulder and knee surgeries, isn't in the Angels' plans. The team may ask Salmon to open the season at triple-A Salt Lake to stay sharp for a possible DH role in Anaheim when Anderson is sound enough to return to left field.
The 37-year-old Salmon, who is batting .316 in 13 spring games, has not decided whether he would play in the minor leagues.
Right-hander John Lackey
gave up three runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings of Saturday's 6-2 exhibition loss to Arizona in Tucson Electric Park. Lackey, who threw 82 pitches, will make one more spring start, Thursday against Milwaukee, before pitching the second game of the season in Seattle on April 4…. Angel first baseman Kendry Morales
hit a home run and a single against fellow Cuban Orlando Hernandez
, the Diamondback right-hander.