The Peoria Chiefs bullpen was easily the weakest spot on the Midwest League playoff team, especially at the back end. The Chiefs never found a consistent pitcher who could lock down games and hold leads in the seventh inning and beyond. Tyler Bray and Steven De La Cruz were thrust into the closer/late relief roles this year, but they each had more blown saves than saves.
That being said, one reliever was far and away the best of the unit. Jorge Rodriguez was consistently phenomenal in a middle relief role. The 22-year-old had the stuff and endurance to be a starter, which is part of the reason the Chiefs moved him to the rotation late in the season.
Rodriguez often worked in mop-up duty, but he was exceptional whenever he was given the ball. He typically threw three or four innings in relief and was great at keeping runners of the base paths. The Dominican routinely pounded the zone as he only walked 20 batters this year compared to 66 strikeouts. The righty’s WHIP was 1.23 while also boasting a 2.17 ERA, both second best on the team and first among relievers.
When he transitioned into a starting role, Rodriguez began to garner attention, but he only had six starts in 27 appearances, meaning most of his work came as a reliever. He finished with a 4-1 record as opponents only hit .252 against him in 70 2/3 innings.
Rodriguez spent all year in Peoria, and routinely delivered quality innings in important situations. Originally signed by St. Louis in 2012, he certainly proved that he belongs in the Midwest League. He showed his versatility this year, and with his quality stuff, the righty could continue to surprise.
Congratulations to The Cardinal Nation Peoria Chiefs Reliever of the Year for 2016, Jorge Rodriguez.
Considering the futility of the Chiefs bullpen, it is tough to choose other relievers who provided productive innings. However, Luke Harrison deserves some recognition for his performance this year. Before his season-ending injury suffered in early August, the 2015 draft pick from Indiana University had been solid in his 26 appearances.
The Illinois native was 3-2 in 44 2/3 innings, posting a 2.42 ERA and a team best 1.10 WHIP. Opponents had a tough time squaring him up as he limited the opposition to a .205 batting average.
Harrison didn’t quite have the workload or throw as many important innings as Rodriguez, which is why Harrison was not named Reliever of the Year. The righty showed a lot of promise, though, and should continue to thrive in 2017.
The only other reliever who might qualify was Nick Frey, who posted a 4.64 ERA in 54 1/3 innings. Those are not staggering numbers for a picher who Peoria routinely counted on in late-inning situations.
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the Peoria Chiefs Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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