GLENDALE, Ariz. — Admit it, the first thing you want to know about Fernando Rodney, the Mariners’ new closer, is why he chooses to wear his cap cocked toward his left ear, right?
Well, here you go:
“That sometimes confuses the hitter, too, when it’s turned,” he said. “The hitter looks for your eyes. It’s like a dog. When you go somewhere, the first thing (a dog) looks at is your eyes and how you move.
“If you move straight back, he (relaxes and) is OK. So I try that, sometimes, (with the hitter) to move quick (toward the plate). They think I’m not looking at them. They can’t see my face, sometimes.”
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Rodney chuckled as he explains this…the sort of chuckle that makes you wonder if he’s simply sowing more confusion through this comparison between hitters and dogs, their eyes and such.
There’s no confusion in this: The Mariners signed Rodney, who turns 37 later this month, to a two-year deal for $14 million in the hope he can rejuvenate a leaky bullpen.
On Thursday, he made his spring debut by working one inning in a 7-4 victory over Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch. His results were mixed: one run, two hits in one inning.
“I think it was great,” Rodney said. “The most important thing for me was the fastball was in a good location. That’s what I was looking for on the first day. I think the next step is going to be (even) better.”
Rodney inherited a 2-1 lead from starter Scott Baker to start the fourth inning. (Why the fourth inning? Largely to put him in match-ups against major-league players before the mass substitutions in later innings.)
All began well.
Rodney retired Adam Dunn on a grounder to first and slipped at a third strike past Paul Konerko. But Dayan Viciedo ripped a double to right and scored when Carlos Sanchez looped a single into center field.
Sanchez stole second before Rodney ended the inning by retiring Adrian Nieto on a routine fly to left.
“(Rodney) did OK,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “The ball came out (well). He made some good pitches. They found the small end of the bat a couple of times, and they got hits.”
Prior to the game, McClendon dismissed any suggestion that Rodney is behind schedule even though most other relievers have thrown at least twice in spring games.
“It’s a typical closer’s type of spring,” McClendon countered. “They don’t need many innings. Most of them don’t want many innings. And they usually find a way to start late. He’s no different than the rest of them.”
Rodney is also unconcerned but now says he’s ready for more work.
“I feel strong,” he said. “The only thing is I feel I need more games now to get my body in shape. Other than that, just keep working hard.”
His priority is fastball command to both sides of the plate.
“If I locate my fastball,” Rodney said, “I can throw the change-up in any count. I didn’t use that too much today because I wanted to get my arm loose with my fastball command.
“Next time, I’m going to throw a couple of change-ups.”
And if what you see when you look at him is a guy in a crooked cap…well, Rodney hopes that’s what the hitter sees, too. Along with any runner who happens to reach first base.
“When I put (the cap) like that,” he said, “the runner at first, sometimes I think they think I’m looking at them. They say, `Oh, he’s looking at me,’ and they stop (from taking a bigger lead).
“The hitter, he wants to see your face when you deliver the ball.”
Now we’re back to dogs’ eyes.
“That’s baseball,” Rodney said while flashing a pirate’s smile. “Every day you try to do something to improve, to get better, because every day when you come to this game, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The crooked cap?
“That’s what I do now,” he said. “Since I starting doing that, everything is working right.”
Nothing wrong with that.