Rodriguez's Versatility is a Plus

It wasn't easy for the Florida coaching staff to pull Paco Rodriguez out of Miami. Like almost every young baseball player in South Florida, the left-handed pitcher grew up rooting for the Hurricanes.

The coaches didn't know if they could get him to Gainesville, but their recruiting pitch convinced Rodriguez that Gainesville was the right place for him. He heads into this season with a good chance at being the team's closer.

"It was hard (to get him) because Miami has such a storied program," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "Those kids grow up wanting to be Hurricanes from a young age. To go get a young arm like him has been really good for us, and it's been really good for him."

Rodriguez impacted the team immediately last season. He became one of the more trusted arms out of the bullpen, despite being only a freshman. He ended his first season with a 2-0 record and a 2.57 ERA in 28 innings. He walked only five hitters and struck out 26.

"I love Paco," O'Sullivan said. "He's one of my favorites. He's competitive. It was very hard to recruit in Miami, but he made a commitment to us very early. We feel like we got the right guy out of Miami. I love his competitiveness and versatility. He could start, do middle relief or close a game. You always get his best effort. I love his personality."

The competitiveness on the mound is why Rodriguez seems to be the favorite to win the closer's job. There are candidates with more experience at Florida and maybe even some with better pitches, but his demeanor on the mound is unmatched.

Whether it's a blowout, midweek game or a game with the conference championship on the line, O'Sullivan knows that Rodriguez is grounded enough that his performance won't change. He learned that early last season, and it's a large reason that Rodriguez picked up the win against South Carolina last season in the game that Florida clinched the SEC Championship.

Rodriguez went 1.1 innings and struck out three batters in that performance.

Despite the success he experienced as a freshman, Rodriguez continued to improve in the offseason. He has improved his changeup and worked on developing a slider. Those pitches will compliment a four-seam fastball and a cut fastball that Rodriguez used last year.

The cut fastball was difficult for hitters, whether right-handed or left-handed, to get the barrel on.

The added pitches to his repertoire will make Rodriguez more difficult to hit this season, but it's his composure on the mound that makes him the pitcher Florida wants on the mound with the game on the line.

"You have to keep the same mentality all the time," Rodriguez said. "You can't get too high or low based on who you're playing. I think I did a good job coming out of the pen."

Rodriguez didn't know what to expect when he stepped on campus last season. He thought he would see time on the mound, but no one knew how much. However, as his cutter continued to catch hitters off balance throughout last offseason, it became more evident that Rodriguez would be a key part of the bullpen.

"You're the best player on the team (in high school), and you have that expectation that when you get here, you have to work even harder to get anything," Rodriguez said. "That's something I've always been taught when I was growing up- you have to work for what you want by putting the effort in."

That experience has helped Rodriguez become a mentor to the freshmen pitchers this season. He was paired with freshman left-hander Daniel Gibson in the fall, and Rodriguez says the reason is because they both started their freshman years with some control issues.

"He's like me-- a little wild," Rodriguez said. "I just show him the little things, and I talk to him about it. He was a little amped up when he got here, but he's gotten a lot better since the fall."

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