Dereck Rodriguez

Dereck Rodriguez pays tribute to Batman with custom Dark Knight glove

Dereck Rodriguez pays tribute to Batman with custom Dark Knight glove

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Dereck Rodriguez caught the Giants and the National League by surprise last summer, running with an opportunity and locking down a rotation job. He also surprised his glove supplier. 

Wilson sent Rodriguez gloves last spring but he wasn't quite at the level yet where you get custom-made equipment. Coming off a season in which he posted a 2.81 ERA in 21 appearances, Rodriguez got a special delivery from Wilson this spring. 

In games, he'll wear an orange glove with black lacing that has his full name stitched along the side. "It pops," he said, smiling. So does his other glove, for a completely different reason. 

The second glove Wilson sent is all-black with dark logos and a different name stitched on the side: "Dark Knight." 

Getting that version was a dream come true for the huge Batman fan.

"I've always been a fan of Batman," Rodriguez said. "There's the mystery, and he really has no powers -- he just has money and he makes stuff and saves people."

The black glove might not make it into games, but Rodriguez will still represent his favorite superhero on the field. It was impossible to miss the sleeve of Batman tattoos on his left arm last season. 

The first one, a video game illustration of Batman, went on five years ago. Two years later he got Heath Ledger as the joker. Before he came to camp last season, Rodriguez went to an artist and added Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. 

Getting established as a big leaguer has allowed Rodriguez to fully embrace a character he has liked his whole life. He plays the Batman video games and watches all the movies, and recently he got into the DC animated ones when they were added to Netflix.

He has a favorite version, of course. 

[RELATED: Dereck Rodriguez focuses on making adjustments with Giants spot secure]

"I like the story of the Christian Bale Batman," Rodriguez said. "I like that Dark Knight series because you see it from before he's Batman to all the way through the end. I also really liked the old-school ones with Michael Keaton."

Rodriguez collects memorabilia, too, and as his stature grew last year, fans sent some his way. That helped him build his Batman collection, and this spring Wilson helped in a very unique way. 

Dereck Rodriguez focuses on making adjustments with Giants spot secure

Dereck Rodriguez focuses on making adjustments with Giants spot secure

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Around this time a year ago, Dereck Rodriguez walked into the Giants' clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium and found he no longer had a locker. 

Rodriguez was one of the first cuts the staff made in 2018, but he dominated in a cameo late in the spring, worked his way up to the Majors by the end of May, and became a fixture in the rotation the rest of the way. If the Giants are to go anywhere in 2019, it's hard to imagine them doing so without Rodriguez duplicating that success. 

To repeat his rookie season, Rodriguez knows he'll need to give the NL a different look. 

"They make adjustments and I'll make adjustments and they're going to make some more adjustments and I'll make more adjustments," he said, smiling. 

One was on display Saturday, when Rodriguez pumped breaking balls to the Chicago Cubs in 3 2/3 innings that were much sharper than the line score showed. He gave up three runs, but all came in a rally consisting entirely of seeing-eye singles. Rodriguez struck out five. 

"(I'm) just throwing my off-speed pitches behind in the count more, and more consistently," he said. "That's pretty much what I've been doing so far, pounding the zone and trying to get outs quicker. You don't necessarily have to nip the corners. Go after them, get them out of there quick, and be on to the next one."

[RELATED: Giants' pitching coach has Pomeranz in his comfort zone]

In an era where front offices are focused on third-time-through penalties, working quickly might actually be a huge benefit for Rodriguez. He was much better as games went on, holding hitters to a .559 OPS the second time through the order and .596 the third time.

Rodriguez threw more fastballs later in the season, cutting back on his curveball, but he hopes mixing it up will allow him to hit a goal: 200 innings. It appears the Giants will give him a shot to get an early start on reaching that milestone, after initially saying Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez could start the season in the minors to limit their innings. 

"Right now, he's part of the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said Saturday. "That's where he stands. I think he's been throwing the ball well."

That would appear to lock the Giants into a rotation of Rodriguez, Madison Bumgarner, Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz and Jeff Samardzija in some order, but Bochy said they will continue to evaluate their options and keep it competitive. Regardless, this is a much better spot than Rodriguez found himself in a year ago.

"I'm still here," he said. "That's the biggest point -- I'm still here."

Giants pitcher Dereck Rodriguez's arm is fresh, velocity strong in spring

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AP

Giants pitcher Dereck Rodriguez's arm is fresh, velocity strong in spring

There's good news -- and even better news.

For starters, the weather appears to be warming up in Arizona after an extremely weird case of frigid temperatures. In better news, Derek Rodriguez's arm feels great.

And even more than the arm confidence, there appears to be a slight uptick in his velocity.

During his outing on Sunday against the Rockies, Rodriguez was back at Salt River Fields, the place where he first made a name for himself in the Giants organization at this time last season.

"I feel like that's where I really got put on the map last year," Rodriguez told MLB.com's Owen Perkins. "It was after that start here."

"So coming back here, it's a little different during the day, and a different team. But it was fun."

The team he was going up against was a close, possible Opening Day roster for the Rockies that included Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story. 

No pressure.

“They had their dudes in there,” Rodriguez said. “I like going out there and seeing their guys. Seeing Charlie [Blackmon] leading off and Nolan [Arenado] and [Trevor] Story and all those guys, knowing that we’re going to see them a bunch during the year. Just going out there and then seeing them in the lineup gives you that little bit of competition. You just want to go out there and do good.”

Perkins noted the radar gun during D-Rod's outing clocked him at 94, which is slightly ahead of where he was consistently in 2018.

Last season, his four-seam fastball had a velocity measured at an average 92.1 mph, according to FanGraphs.  

“I feel like I got the arm speed,” the 26-year-old said. “The arm feels great. As camp keeps going, I know I’m going to just keep getting stronger.”

Rodriguez had a very unique stat that was part of his 2018 campaign when he boasted a 3.9 percent barrel rate. If you're unsure what a barrel rate is (I had to research it myself) I wrote about it back in December.

[RELATED: Watch Rodriguez push car as part of his workout]

It's pretty cool.

Regardless, he's more than on his way to having a successful sophomore season with the Giants, and we are all here for it.