Rookie reliever Rodriguez making strong case to steal late innings

Paco Rodriguez fumbled for the words far too long before the Dodgers’ 22-year-old rookie reliever just gave up and laughed.

“If you would have asked me at this time last year if I would be in the major leagues today, I would have laughed at you,” Rodriguez said. “From one year to another, you know, your life changes completely.”

Exactly one year ago Saturday, the left-hander pitched two scoreless innings to close out a win for the University of Florida. The Dodgers’ second-round draft pick last year is not only the first player from the 2012 draft class to reach the major leagues, he sports the second-best earned-run average in the Dodgers’ bullpen. That’s not saying much considering Dodgers relievers have the fourth-highest collective ERA in the major leagues.

But Rodriguez is certainly making a statement with a 2.57 ERA in a sizable sample size of 14 innings since making the Dodgers’ Opening-Day roster.

As his teammates in the bullpen trend downward, Rodriguez is making an increasingly stronger case to be called upon in late innings, something Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt discussed while supposed horse Ronald Belisario lost his fourth game of the young season on Friday.

“You hate to jump ship and give up on guys,” Mattingly said. “That wouldn’t be giving up on guys. That’s (Rodriguez) making noise, saying ‘I can pitch here.’ He’s working his way toward that role.”

Since allowing two runs on April 9, Rodriguez has a 1.89 ERA in 14 appearances entering Saturday’s game. He has allowed just six hits all season and his 18 appearances tie Belisario and Kenley Jansen for the most on the team.

He isn’t taking his success for granted, especially with the failure surrounding him in the bullpen.

“These other guys got here for a reason and everybody struggles,” Rodriguez said. “There’s going to be times times where I’m going to struggle and I’m going to have to deal with it. I’m here and it’s going great so far, but I have to keep it going.”

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