Rodriguez Looking To Harness Blazing Fastball

Henry Rodriguez has the kind of talent that makes most GMs salivate. With a fastball that has topped out at 100 mph, Rodriguez has been drawing attention from scouts since the early age of 16. Matt Bailey profiles the talented young Kane County Cougars right-hander inside.

Henry Rodriguez grew up playing baseball in Venezuela and was signed as an international free agent by the Oakland A's and assigned to the A's Dominican Summer League team soon after that. He made the pilgrimage over to the States last season, where he pitched with the A's Rookie League team in Arizona. After starting the year at extended spring training, Rodriguez was promoted to the Kane County Cougars, for whom he will make his 16th appearance (13th start) on Tuesday night.

This season, Rodriguez has begun working on controlling his fastball, which consistently hits 95 on the radar. Meanwhile, he has been mowing down hitters at an average of one strike out per inning.

"I consider myself a power pitcher in this league," Rodriguez said through a translator.

"I've been working on attacking the zone and throwing strikes more consistently."

It is this consistency, or lack thereof that has plagued Rodriguez in some starts this season. In 72 innings of work, Rodriguez has walked 47 batters, the most of any Cougars' starting pitcher. Though his record is just 5-6 on the season, the 20-year-old Rodriguez's ERA of 3.13 shows the type of potential he has as a pitcher.

"I still need to learn how to be more consistent with my fastball, change up and slider," Rodriguez admitted.

"I'm always learning how to pitch in different situations and how to attack the zone while throwing different pitches for strikes."

Cougars manager Aaron Nieckula has seen quite a few arms come and go throughout his stint with the Cougars. When asked to compare Rodriguez to those who came before him, Nieckula doesn't hesitate to label Rodriguez as one of the top in terms of arm strength.

"Rodriguez has a plus arm," Nieckula said.

"On a scale from 1-8 (which is how scouts rank players rather than a 1-10 scale), he's probably a 7.5 or higher. If he can learn to utilize other pitches besides his fastball, he can do great things in this organization."

Besides Rodriguez's struggles with control at times this season, he also faces the daily battle of living life in the United States. Rodriguez, who speaks very little English, left his family behind in Venezuela and has had to make quick adjustments.

"I miss my family a lot," Rodriguez said. "I came here in the hopes of making new friends. I don't understand the language that well but I'm learning a bit as I go and my teammates have been helping me out."

On July 28th, in a game against the Fort Wayne Wizards, Rodriguez had what he called his worst game of the year. He only lasted two innings and gave up six runs, most resulting from the six walks he issued in the outing. And while some pitchers have trouble overcoming bad performances, Rodriguez looked at it as a way to improve.

"I learn from my mistakes and try and go back out and attack the zone more," Rodriguez said.

He came back strong in his next performance, earning a victory after throwing five innings of one-run ball while cutting his walks down to three. This is the type of performance Rodriguez is capable of every time out. Although he is very raw, he has set ambitious goals for himself.

"I've been working very hard to get my ERA down," Rodriguez said.

"When I got promoted here I wanted to have the best ERA in the league. But mostly, I just want to give my teammates a chance to win. I am working especially hard these last four weeks to try and help the team make a playoff run."

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