SAN FRANCISCO — There was no way for Dereck Rodriguez to plan for his MLB debut. He was rushed onto the field in Denver when Jeff Samardzija got shut down by the training staff, giving him minimal time to feel nerves.
You would think, then, that Rodriguez would have felt some butterflies in the days leading up to his first MLB start. The Giants announced early that Rodriguez would take the ball Sunday, but he didn’t notice much of a difference as he took the field in front of 40,000 on a warm day at AT&T Park. He said it wasn’t much different than Triple-A. That sounds hard to believe, until you listen to his teammates and coaches rave about his confidence.
“Only a couple thousand more people,” Rodriguez said matter-of-factly. “Besides that, I felt the same out there.”
He pitched the same way, too. The aggression that got the former outfielder to the big leagues after just two months with the organization got him through six strong against a good Phillies team. Rodriguez allowed one run and watched from the dugout rail as the lineup thrashed Jake Arrieta in the sixth. The bullpen cruised home, and a 6-1 win clinched a series sweep.
Rodriguez, 25, allowed five hits, walked two and struck out six. Time and time again he turned to a fastball that’s firmer than most in the organization. Rodriguez got five swings-and-misses on the pitch and used it for four of his six strikeouts. He topped out at 94.8 mph, which isn’t eye-opening in today’s game, but still qualifies him for rare air among Giants pitchers. Only Samardzija and Tyler Beede have thrown harder among Giants starters this year, and neither is currently in the rotation.
“His fastball has a ton of life to it and seems to come out pretty easily,” Buster Posey said. “He’s doing a nice job of moving it up and down and to both sides of the plate.”
Rodriguez made relatively quick work of the Phillies for most of the day. The one major hiccup was a homer by Arrieta, who took Madison Bumgarner deep in Game 3 of the NLDS two years ago. If Rodriguez was shaken at all, Bumgarner was there to help.
“Bum told me he gave one up to him,” Rodriguez said. “That made me feel better.”
Just as they did in that playoff game, the Giants wiped out the deficit. Gorkys Hernandez had a grinder’s at-bat and singled with one out in the sixth. Pinch-hitter Alen Hanson reached on an infield single to short. Joe Panik nearly pulled a double down the line, then straightened out and pulled a single to right to tie the game. Buster Posey’s single up the middle gave the Giants the lead. Andrew McCutchen’s first homer in 131 at-bats broke the game wide open.
Once faced with a tough-luck loss, Rodriguez instead began preparing to celebrate. He was wheeled into a clubhouse bathroom later in the afternoon and showered with beer.
“A lot of other stuff, too,” he said, smiling.
The win capped a weekend to build off for the Giants, who are right back in the thick of the National League West. They gave up one run over three games and got standout performances from three young starters: Rodriguez, Chris Stratton and rookie Andrew Suarez. The sweep avenged the Phillies’ sweep when the teams met in Pennsylvania last month.
“They had their way with us in Philly,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We got beat up pretty good. (The guys) were determined to punch back and they did it.”