Few in the independent baseball ranks can say they’ve managed two of the top major-league closers of the last 20 years. But the Ducks’ Kevin Baez can — and boy, is he happy about it.
When your franchise keeps giving you arms like Eric Gagne, as the Ducks did briefly last season, and Francisco Rodriguez, as they did on Monday, it’s hard not to be impressed with your front office.
“Isn’t that unbelievable?’ Baez said Friday before a 27-9 win over the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the Ducks’ home opener. “It’s nice to have a big- time player because you feel like he could help the Ducks, not just because he’s a big-time ex-major league player. Ultimately, we want players that can help the Ducks win. If we feel like he’s giving us that chance to help us win, then we want him on board.”
Rodriguez is fourth in MLB history in saves with 437. He saved 62 games in 2008, the single-season record. Gagne saved 55 games in 2003, the third-highest total by a closer in MLB history.
Unlike Gagne, who hadn’t pitched in the big leagues in nearly 10 years before his 16-day stint with the Ducks last year, Rod riguez’s role isn’t ambiguous.
“He’s going to close. Absolutely,” Baez said. “Gagne was in a little different part of his career. This kid was playing in the big leagues last year and was in spring training in March. He’s going to go into the closer’s role and we’ll go from there.”
Rodriguez earned seven saves in 28 games for the Detroit Tigers last year. He had a 7.82 ERA but said he was hampered by hamstring groin injuries suffered in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Now he feels perfectly healthy.
Rodriguez threw to live hitters before Wednesday’s game against the Somerset Patriots in New Jersey. He wasn’t used Friday night, but closers are rarely needed when a team scores 27 runs, a Ducks record. He pithced a scoreless ninth in Saturday night’s victory.
“His ball moves,” Baez said. “His changeup and his curveball, I didn’t realize how good it was. When you see it in person, there’s a little more sharpness and depth to it. His fastball was very lively with some movement. He knows how to pitch. He knows how to set up hitters. He’s been doing it for years at the highest level.”
He added: “Now he’s part of the Ducks and we’re happy to have him. He knows what he has to do. He has to go out there and compete and go out there and perform. We’re just happy to have him on our team.”
Four days is hardly enough time to get to know someone, but Baez had nothing but good things to say about K-Rod the person.
“So far, he’s been great,” Baez said. “I can only go on the last couple of days — the eye test, as I like to call it. But he’s been great with his teammates, coming out and getting his work in, being supportive, all the things that you want.”
Ducks reliever Rob Rogers, an Islip native, now can count K-Rod and Gagne as recent bullpen teammates.
“It’s pretty cool,” Rogers said of Rodriguez. “Growing up, I watched him on TV. But it should be real fun to have him around and get to learn a few things from his perspective.”
Just your ordinary record-setting closer, making a mound in Central Islip his new home.
Said Baez, “He’s one of us now.”