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Fixing Paco Rodriguez

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Mon, Sep 16, 2013 at 1:24 PM

click to enlarge Paco Rodriguez - DAVID BLUMENKRANTZ
  • David Blumenkrantz
  • Paco Rodriguez

While Vin Scully didn't dust off the old fans being "sullen and mutinous" line he's used a million times before, the occasion was plenty ripe for it.

The Dodgers were swept the weekend by going-nowhere San Francisco, they've lost eight of 11, outfielders are dropping like flies in the vicinity of Andruw Jones, and the natives are becoming more restless by the hour.

Los Angeles is going to clinch the National League West eventually, and quite possibly as early as tomorrow. Wins in Arizona tonight and Tuesday and the division is theirs. Two victories in their four-game series with the Dbacks does it too, as does any combination of Dodger wins and Arizona losses equaling four.

But the magic of the team's worst-to-first surge beginning with Yasiel's Puig's debut on June 3 has worn off -- whether because of slump, injury or the impossibility of maintaining such a run forever; it almost doesn't matter -- and they need to get some degree of mojo back before the playoffs begin October 3.

Prominent among L.A.'s concerns may be the recent struggles of the previously-wonderful Paco Rodriguez. I say "may be" because I don't think the situation is as bad as it's being made out to be, and the fix isn't really all that complicated.

And before we go assigning Rodriguez to Rick Honeycutt's laboratory (more apt with the British "la-bor-a-tor-ree" pronunciation) for tinkering, let's recall just how special the left-handed reliever has been thus far.

Paco is but 53 weeks into his big league career, after pitching in all of 21 games as minor leaguer, following being drafted out of the University of Florida, Gainesville just last summer. He's thrown 52 innings in 2013, has recorded 20 holds, two saves, an almost non-existent 0.88 WHIP and a 2.25 earned run average, to go along with his 60 strikeouts. And that's with the inflation brought on by his 5.40 ERA and .353 batting average against in September.

Yes, certainly, Rodriguez has been touched up this month and it hasn't been pretty. Perhaps it's a something to do with that goofy motion of his, and maybe just maybe he does need some guidance courtesy of the evil-genius which has seemingly coopted Honeycutt's body. Or maybe he's just plain pooped, which is the theory most commonly in vogue.

Rodriguez has appeared in 72 of the Dodgers' 149 games, which ties him for the team lead with Ronald Belisario. So sure, maybe he's tired. And he wouldn't be the first of his kind to tell the boss he's fine when he's not fine.

I don't know if Paco is tired, but I do know the cure for fatigue is rest, and I do know that the Dodgers aren't days away from clinching the division crown without him. And they most certainly aren't winning the World Series without their best lefty in the bullpen pitching at or near top form.

And there's your answer right there -- or left there, if you will -- your quick fix. Because even during this period of struggle Rodriguez is still getting the left-handers out. It's the right-handers that are giving him trouble.

The game-deciding home run in Sunday's loss to the Giants? To Brett Pill, a right-hand bat off the bench. Five of the six hits allowed by Paco in September? To right-handers. The other homer he's served up this month? To Josh Rutledge, another right-hand hitter, September 3 in Colorado.

Right-handers are hitting .555 off Rodriguez during his September swoon, with five hits in nine at bats. Lefties are 1-7 and .143, which is more like it, the one hit being managed by Shin Soo Choo on September 7. Before that you have to go all the back to August 1 to find a hit of any kind from a left-hand bat off Paco Rodriguez, that one a solo shot by Anthony Rizzo in Chicago.

So yeah, it's great that your 22-year-old southpaw specialist has been clutch enough -- spectacular enough to hold right-handers to a .153 average prior to this month. He hasn't for a grand total of nine recent at bats, and it's a bit much to ask of him anyway, especially given all the baseballs he's thrown in 2013.

He's still getting left-handers out, and he'll continue to get them out with just a thimble full of logical thought and baseball savvy from the powers that be. Simply ease up on the workload a bit, and let Rodriguez get his groove back doing what he does best -- and what the Dodgers need most from him -- that's retiring the best left-hand bats the opposing team has to offer.

Save Paco for Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman and Pedro Alvarez. For Jay Bruce and Matt Carpenter and Justin Morneau. Those are the hitters you need to retire. And Paco'll get those guys, if only you let him.

Follow Howard Cole and LAWeekly on Twitter.

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