Oakland A's MLN: H-Rod Working From The Pen

Hard throwing right-hander Henry Rodriguez has been called a potential closer by a number of scouts. After starting for most of the year, Rodriguez is finally in the bullpen pitching in the ninth inning. Countryman Raul Padron is back in the everyday line-up for Stockton after missing the first 50 games with a suspension. We caught-up with both and have news and notes from around the A's system...

Right-hander Henry Rodriguez's season has been filled with ups and downs. It began on an up note when he put together an impressive showing during his first big league spring training camp. That carried over into the regular season, when he had three strong starts for High-A Stockton to begin the year. Then the pendulum swung the other way for Rodriguez following a promotion to Double-A Midland. He struggled badly with the Rockhounds, posting an 8.82 ERA in 33.2 innings before being sent back down to Stockton.

The Midland experience was humbling for Rodriguez, who said that he learned a lot about what it will take to succeed at a higher level the next time he gets an opportunity above A-ball.

"Everyone has ups and downs. I learned a lot about the ups and downs in Midland and how to deal with them," Rodriguez said through translator and teammate Raul Padron.

"I know now that when I get to the next level again, I will need to work even more than 100 percent every day to improve and compete there."

Although he has been a starter for the majority of his professional career, Rodriguez has often been projected by scouts as a potential closer. His best two pitches are a closer's bread-and-butter – a high-90s fastball that can hit triple digits and a sharp breaking slider that sits in the high-80s, low-90s. For much of the season, the A's resisted moving Rodriguez to the bullpen, hoping that he would work through his control issues, knowing that his fastball gave him a chance of being a top-of-the-rotation starter.

However, Rodriguez posted back-to-back months of ERAs above 4.00 in June and July and walked 30 in 47.1 innings. That was enough to convince the A's that Rodriguez's future was in the bullpen. His last four outings have come as a reliever, and the last two have been ninth-inning appearances. Rodriguez's first two relief appearances were sub-par. He allowed five runs and three walks in 4.1 innings. The last two outings have been much better, however. He worked the ninth innings for the Ports on Saturday and on Monday, retiring all six batters he faced and striking out four. He notched his first save of the season on Saturday.

Rodriguez is enjoying his switch to the bullpen.

"So far, it feels good. I am just getting into the groove and am working hard to get better," Rodriguez said.

This July, the A's got what they hope is a preview of Rodriguez's future when he threw an inning of relief in the MLB All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium. Rodriguez was electric in his eighth inning appearance. After walking the first batter, Rodriguez struck out the next three hitters he faced. He hit 100 at least three times according to the stadium gun and threw one pitch so hard he fell down with the effort.

His pitching performance was arguably the most impressive of the game and had reporters from coast to coast talking about the 21-year-old Venezuelan. It was an experience that Rodriguez will never forget.

"It was the best day for me. It was such a dream to be at Yankee Stadium and be pitching there. It was a really fun day because I got to spend some time with some of the guys from other organizations and some of the coaches. It was a great experience," Rodriguez said.

As he has the past few off-seasons, Rodriguez will compete for his hometown Aguilas del Zulia, where he is teammates with current A's centerfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Rodriguez considers his winter ball season an important part of his development as a pitcher.

"Winter ball just gives you more experiences to know what pitches in what counts you can throw and all of that stuff. It helps me get ready for the season," Rodriguez said.

When next season finally rolls around, look for Rodriguez to be bringing the heat in the ninth inning of an A's affiliate near you.

Padron Happy To Be Back On The Field

After serving a 50-game suspension at the start of the season for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance late last season, Raul Padron is back in the everyday line-up with the Stockton Ports.

"It was hard to start the year [suspended]. But right now, all of that is behind me and I am starting new again. I don't feel any baggage. I am just ready to play everyday," Padron said.

In 45 games since returning from his suspension, Padron is batting .257 with four homeruns. A catcher by trade, Padron has seen a significant amount of time at first base since the arrival of Josh Donaldson to the Ports in early July. Although he prefers to catch, Padron has felt comfortable defensively at first.

"It's been alright at first. When I was in Venezuela, I played some first base in winter ball. It feels fine. I just have to keep working during BP taking a lot of groundballs," Padron said.

While he was suspended, Padron worked out at the A's Dominican academy to stay sharp. He was one of a handful of A's prospects Oakland officials asked to hit against right-hander Michael Inoa when the A's were weighing whether or not to sign the 16-year-old. Padron came away from the experience impressed with Inoa.

"He's a good kid for sure. He has good stuff. A good change-up, a good curveball. And he throws hard, like 92-94. To me, he is going to be a really, really good pitcher," Padron said.

"He's tough on hitters. He didn't really look like a kid. He looked like a really good pitcher. He threw like an experienced pitcher. When he faced me, he didn't just throw fastballs. He threw more like a guy at the high levels."

Padron knows a lot about advanced pitchers. In addition to competing against minor league prospects and major league veterans in Venezuelan winter ball with the Leones del Caracas, Padron also went up against some of the best pitching prospects in baseball in last year's Arizona Fall League. Padron excelled against the top prospects in the game, batting a Phoenix team-high .320 with an 864 OPS.

"The Arizona Fall League was a very nice experience for me. A lot of those guys are in the big leagues now, so I feel good about that," Padron said.

"It was a very comfortable situation for me in that league because we had good umpires and better pitchers. I felt like, ‘alright, this is my level. This is where I want to be.'"

Other News And Notes:

* The Sacramento River Cats routed the Salt Lake Bees to move within one game of Salt Lake for the best record in the Pacific Coast League. Brad Knox out-dueled highly touted Angels prospect Nick Adenhardt for his seventh win of the season. Knox went seven strong innings, allowing only one run on six hits. He struck-out six and walked none. The River Cats needed only eight hits to score 10 runs thanks to 11 walks. Matt Murton walked four times and Landon Powell walked three times. Wes Bankston had four RBIs and Donnie Murphy had three RBIs.

* Left-hander Josh Outman, who was one of three prospects acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Joe Blanton trade, was promoted to Triple-A on Tuesday. He worked a scoreless ninth inning in the River Cats' win. He had a 4.26 ERA in 12.2 innings with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds before the promotion.

* Outfielder Joe Gaetti, who hit 17 homers in 79 games for the Midland Rockhounds and Sacramento River Cats this season, was traded to the Minnesota Twins organization this week. He was assigned to the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats. Gaetti was signed to a minor league free agent deal by Oakland back in April. His father Gary played for the Twins in the 1980s and 1990s.

* Right-hander Scott Mitchinson was activated off of the Kane County disabled list on Tuesday and he had an impressive outing out of the bullpen. The right-hander threw 2.2 scoreless innings, striking out five and walking none. He lowered his season ERA to 1.83 in 73.2 innings. He has struck-out 75 and walked only 11 this season. The Australian was acquired by Oakland as a minor league Rule 5 pick out of the Philadelphia organization last December.

* Third baseman Jeff Baisley is moving closer to rejoining the Sacramento River Cats. He has been rehabbing with the A's Rookie League team over the past week. In five games, he has a .286 average with a homer, two doubles and four RBIs. Baisley has been out for nearly two months with a stress fracture in his foot.

* On a day that infielder Cliff Pennington made his major league debut, several other 2008 Sacramento River Cats helped the A's win for only the fourth time in their last 25 games. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez earned his first major league win in his second major league start, as the A's beat the Tampa Bay Rays by a score of 2-1. Gonzalez worked five-plus innings, allowing one run on five hits and four walks. He struck-out five. Gonzalez left the game in the sixth inning with runners on first and second and no outs. Left-hander Jerry Blevins took over for Gonzalez and stranded those two runners and worked one more scoreless inning after that. Right-hander Joey Devine worked a scoreless eighth and then right-hander Brad Ziegler pitched around an inning-opening error by Daric Barton to work a hitless ninth inning. Ziegler earned his second big league save and extended his streak to 38 scoreless innings.

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