By now the word is out that a four-time All-Star pitcher has started his major league comeback attempt as a Round Rock Express reliever.
A potentially bigger piece to the future Texas Rangers bullpen puzzle is working right beside Tim Lincecum.
Ricky Rodriguez is one of the organization’s most promising arms. Last year he posted a stunningly low 1.34 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 47 innings of High-A and Double-A ball before a late-season call-up to Arlington.
“I’m an attacking guy,” Rodriguez said. “I come right after you and want to throw strike, strike and set the tone. I mix in my slider with the fastball.”
It’s been quite a contrast this week when the Express have gone back-to-back with Lincecum, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound, finesse-tossing grizzled vet with 1,736 MLB strikeouts, followed by the 6-2, 225-pound, hard-throwing prospect who’s worked only a handful of innings above Double-A.
“I didn’t think about following a Cy Young Award winner, but I am trying to learn from him,” Rodriguez said. “I want to pick up as many things as I can. He has the knowledge from accomplishing so much in his career.”
Both are on the Rangers’ 60-day disabled list. Lincecum, who hadn’t been in a game in 20 months before this week, is building up arm strength. Rodriguez is recovering from right biceps tendinitis.
While the three-time World Series winner with the Giants is pitching in the 82- to 90-mph zone, the 25-year-old Venezuelan carries a mid-90s fastball. His first three offerings in his Round Rock debut Wednesday were 94, 94 and 95, before he threw in an 87-mph slider.
“I’m working on getting my velo up to where it was before the injury. I think I have a couple more (mph) beyond that,” said the gregarious Rodriguez, who turned in a scoreless inning.
Rodriguez had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and essentially missed two seasons before returning with a vengeance last year.
“Ricky Rod has swing-and-miss stuff,” Express pitching coach Brian Shouse said. “He is aggressive with his fastball and a tight breaking ball. When he has good command, he is tough to hit.
“He had spring training cut short by the tendinitis, so he needs a few appearances to get everything into a flow. But he is definitely one to watch.”
Shouse said the plan was for Rodriguez to pitch back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday before determining the next step in his recovery.
Lincecum isn’t eligible to join the Rangers until Memorial Day weekend.
Texas has a 4.46 bullpen ERA, 21st in the majors, so improvement would be welcome.
Rodriguez, who logged 13 innings for the Rangers in 2017, became only the third pitcher in the past century to go from Single-A to recording a major league save in the same season. Chad Cordero (2003 with the Expos) and Hunter Strickland (2014 with the Giants) are the others.
“That was something to remember, but I hope it was just a starting point,” Rodriguez said.
For results of Friday night’s Express-Baby Cakes game, go to statesman.com.
Express at Cubs, 7:08 p.m., 1300