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What’s with all the home runs, K-Rod?

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When the Baltimore Orioles acquired right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers a couple weeks back for prospect Nicky Delmonico, most O’s fans and analysts agreed that it was a good move. Closer Jim Johson’s sporadic struggles in 2013 are well-documented, and it’s never a bad idea to have more late-inning relief help.

Who better than a guy with 304 career saves? Though we’re five years removed from his 62-save performance in 2008 with Anaheim, “KRod” had proven to still be effective, putting up a 1.05 ERA in 25 appearances for the Brewers before coming to Baltimore. He had allowed just three earned runs and two home runs in 24.1 IP in Milwaukee.

Unfortunately, since coming to the O’s, KRod is more like HRod in that, he’s allowing HRs at an alarming rate – 4 in 4.0 IP.

So what’s been the problem? Let’s go to BrooksBaseball.net‘s Pitchf/X tool and see if we can’t find some answers.

In Rodriguez’s first appearance for the Birds, he allowed a home run to Kansas City’s Billy Butler.

As we can see, the homer came on a pitch up and in. Per Pitchf/X, it was a 92 MPH fastball.

In Wednesday’s 11-0 loss to the Houston Astros, Rodriguez made his second appearance in orange and black, and promptly gave up another home run, this one to Matt Dominguez.

That’s a little bit tough to see, so let’s narrow it down to just Dominguez’s AB.

Nearly the same pitch – and the same result – as the one he threw to Butler. This fastball clocked in at 92.5 MPH, up and on the inner half.

Last night in the O’s 11-8 win against Seattle, Rodriguez pitched the eighth inning, entering the ballgame with the Birds up 11-6. He allowed not one, but two solo home runs to make it a save situation for Jim Johnson (one former closer helping a current one?)

Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse both touched up KRod. Here’s how they did it:

Morales took the first pitch he saw, a 92.7 MPH fastball over the outer edge of the plate (Morales is the only lefty to homer off KRod so far) deep into the O’s bullpen.

After Voldemort Raul Ibanez struck out, Morse stepped in.

You guessed it, another letter-high fastball, this one at just under 92 MPH.

To his credit, Rodriguez struck out the other three batters he faced in the inning. Basically, when KRod is on the hill, every hitter becomes Mark Reynolds.

Oddly enough, those four home runs are the ONLY FOUR HITS that Rodriguez has allowed in 4.0 IP as an Oriole. Obviously that rate won’t continue, but just as obvious is the fact that KRod needs to learn to keep his fastball down, and quickly. He’s not running it up there in the mid-to-high 90’s like he once was, and hitters are feasting on his mistakes.

The good news, I suppose, is that Rodriguez is showing he can still miss bats – five strikeouts in four innings – and hitters can’t really seem to hit anything BUT his high fastballs.

In his only scoreless appearance as an Oriole, against Boston on July 27, Rodriguez threw only one fastball in his “HR area” and Shane Victorino grounded out on it.

So, to summarize, KRod needs to stop throwing letter-high fastballs. Simple enough, right?

Note: I’ve seen some argue that Buck’s odd way of using Rodriguez so far – he’s entered games with the team trailing 6-1, 7-3, 10-0, and leading 11-6 – has something to do with his struggles. A former closer (who was also closing games for the Brewers this year, it should be noted) just can’t get into his usual mindset in games like that. The lack of focus could be leading to the bad pitches.

While that’s entirely possible, how can Buck trust Rodriguez in a high-leverage situation right now, when he’s shown such a glaring tendency to give up the gopher ball?

The only way to solve this is to start putting KRod into some situations that would normally be reserved for a Darren O’Day or even a :gasp: Jim Johnson. Maybe then we’ll see what he can really do. I do agree that using him as the new Pedro Strop is a waste of his talents.

But that doesn’t mean we all won’t be reaching for the Pepto Bismol as he toes the rubber in a tie or one-run game here soon. And, as usual, Buck will only be right if KRod succeeds.

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