DENVER – Cubs reliever Manuel Rodríguez stepped onto a familiar mound Wednesday.
Three weeks ago, he’d taken the bump at Coors Field in the All-Star Futures Game. On Wednesday, he logged his first major-league save, in the Cubs’ 3-2 win against the Rockies.
“Hitting’s so hard, if you can fill up the zone with that type of stuff and continue to keep your poise and make pitches, that’s extremely valuable in our game,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Rodríguez’s four-batter inning. “And you saw it play out tonight.”
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A combination of talent and timing has sent Rodríguez, 24, rocketing from Double-A to Triple-A to the show in a matter of months this year. He joined the big-league team this past week with a batch of fresh faces in the wake of the Cubs’ deadline selloff.
One of the Cubs’ promising young pitchers, a vital group in the club’s transition, Rodríguez’s velocity stands out. He hits triple digits. Ross isn’t ready to label Rodríguez a future MLB closer – “I don’t want to put that on somebody,” he said. Rodríguez has the stuff, but he still needs the major-league experience.
Back in 2016, the Cubs signed Rodríguez out of the Mexican League. By the spring of 2020, Rodríguez was in position to make an impression on the Cubs’ major-league coaching staff, after the club placed him on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
In his third spring training outing last year, Rodríguez strained his right biceps. Then, the pandemic shut down the minor-league season.
“Everything that happened has led me to this point,” Rodríguez said through team interpreter Will Nadal. “I've taken good with the bad. Everything’s a learning experience, and I think that's helped me get to where I am right now.”
Rodríguez and outfielder Brennen Davis represented the Cubs in the Futures Game last month, two weeks after the right-hander’s promotion from Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Iowa.
“He left me, selfishly, and went to Triple-A,” Davis joked over the All-Star break. “But he's unbelievable closer. You feel so confident when he comes in the game.”
During his scoreless Futures Game inning on the mound, Rodríguez looked up at to see “100 mph” flash onto the scoreboard.
“It was a great moment for me to just show the world who I am what I can do,” Rodríguez said. “I’m Manny Rodriguez, I’m from Mexico, I'm here to make it. It was a great experience. It really helped me set the stage for just what could happen next.”
A couple days before the trade deadline, after Rodríguez’s seventh straight scoreless outing in Triple-A, he learned he was joining the Cubs’ taxi squad, with a good chance to land on the roster when a spot opened up.
“I just went to my room, and I couldn't hold back the tears,” Rodríguez said. “I just started crying of happiness that I might actually get that chance to the achieve the dream that I've been trying to get to this whole time, throughout my career.”
Rodríguez made his MLB debut last Friday, in the eighth inning of a one-run game against the Nationals. He retired the side in order. But Rodríguez’s next outing told Ross even more about the flame-thrower’s makeup.
Coming into a tie game, Rodríguez took the mound in the ninth inning of the series finale at Washington., Rodríguez took the mound in the ninth inning of the series finale at Washington. He faced one batter, Yadiel Hernández, who worked a deep count. Then, Hernández got ahold of a low and inside sinker for a walk-off homer.
“His body language coming off,” Ross said of Rodríguez with a smile, “doesn't look like he's going to be fazed by too much. So, I was really impressed with that. It's not how you handle success; it’s how you handle adversity.”