Francisco Rodriguez not happy about “mop-up guy” role in bullpen

Veteran reliever Francisco Rodriguez has had just about enough of being in a reduced role in the bullpen for the Detroit Tigers.

K-Rod was approached by a reporter for The Detroit News on Tuesday prior to the Tigers’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Rodriguez was simply asked how content he was with his current role, and to say he’s frustrated would be an understatement.

“That’s a question that really irritates me,” he said before the game on Tuesday. “Am I being judged on 10 outings? What about the other 400-plus saves? What about the almost 1,000 appearances?

“I made my living in tough, pressure situations. I have not made my living being a mop-up guy.”

Baseball’s active saves leader was removed from his closer role in May after blowing four saves in his first 13 outings, a span where opponents hit better than .350 off him and clubbed four home runs in just under 12 innings of work. Rodriguez was replaced by lefty reliever Justin Wilson.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus gave Rodriguez some days off after being relieved of his closing duties, saying the goal was to “get Frankie back” to the way he was in 2016 because the bullpen is better when he is “pitching at the back end.”

Since being removed from the closer’s role, Frankie has performed better. He’s allowed just four earned runs in 10 innings of work (3.60 ERA), albeit in much lower-leverage situations compared to early on in the season. Wilson meanwhile since becoming the closer has allowed six ER in 12.1 IP — half of those runs coming in one inning on 05/27 — and has converted in four of five save opportunities.

Wilson pitched in the ninth inning of a 6-6 tie on Tuesday and allowed a go-ahead home run.

Rodriguez meanwhile attributes a lot of his frustration to a lack of communication between him, Ausmus and Tigers pitching coach Rich Dubee. The veteran reliever says neither Ausmus or Dubee have really talked to him much since he demotion.

While he understands as much as anyone in the sport, it ultimately comes down to performance. He says that he feels like he’s improved, but doesn’t like the fact he’s not getting consistent outings.

“You talk to Brad more than I have,” he said. “To be honest, no one talked to me. No one tells me anything. They never ask my opinion. They never ask me if I am ready to do that or not. It was their decision. Nobody asks me anything.

“Ask Dubee how many times he’s talked to me. They are the ones who have all the answers.”

“How is it going to be better if I don’t pitch?” Rodriguez said. “They say one thing, but their actions say something else. How am I supposed to take that if I don’t get into the game when the game is close or we have the lead?

“How am I supposed to take that?”

Ausmus meanwhile not only shared his thoughts on the matter, but also disputed some of the things Rodriguez claimed when asked about it.

“I talked to Frankie for 15 minutes in Houston,” Ausmus said. “On his request, actually. He texted me and asked if we could talk and I sought him out the next day. We talked about his situation for about 15 minutes.

“This door opens from both sides. Players often come in and talk. That’s never been in question. I will talk to anybody on this team about anything.”

Ausmus wants Frankie back in the fold as much as Frankie wants Frankie back in the fold. And the Tigers’ skipper cited that for a multitude of reasons, specifically pertaining to depth and not wearing out Alex Wilson or Shane Greene, who have continued to pitch well late in games.

“Frankie is moving in the right direction,” Ausmus said. “After we spoke in Houston, I already had it in my mind to try and use him more in higher-leverage situations. I used him in Kansas City and he gave up the two-run home run to Hosmer.
That was a little bit of a step-back, but it was just one pitch.

“That depends on Justin Wilson’s performance,” he said, asked if Rodriguez could ever reclaim his closer role. “If he performs well, he will keep closing games. But from a broad perspective, we’re better when Frankie is closing and we have all these other guys in front of him. It makes us deeper.

“Another reason we want to get him back in the fold is because we are going to wear Alex Wilson and Shane Greene out.”

Being the consummate professional he is, Rodriguez has been adamant about doing whatever the team needs him to do, regardless of the situation. But it doesn’t change the way he feels.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Especially when people ask me if I am ready to pitch in those (high-leverage) situations. My entire career I’ve been doing that. It’s tough. It bothers me when they ask me about it.”

Detroit wraps up their mini two-game series with Arizona on Wednesday (7:10 p.m. ET) before welcoming in the Tampa Bay Rays for a four-game weekend series.

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