To some people, Tampa Bay’s Fernando Rodney is considered an odd bird, partially because he entertains teammates with bird calls along with dances and bizarre voices. On the mound, he wears his hat crooked and shoots imaginary arrows after recording each save. In 2012, the 35-year-old right-hander has accumulated ample mock archery practice with 36 saves in 37 attempts.
Rodney, who logged his 36th save on Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 7-3 win in 10 innings over Minnesota, is in the midst of a historic season. He has a 2-1 record along with a 0.83 ERA, a 0.76 WHIP and a .176 opponent’s batting average. Since the save was created as a statistic in 1969, only two relievers have finished a season with at least 30 saves and an ERA below 1.00. Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley accomplished the feat in 1990 with 48 saves and a 0.61 ERA while Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon saved 35 games and posted a 0.92 ERA in 2006.
In spring training, the Rays were uncertain about their closer’s role. Kyle Farnsworth, who tallied 25 saves in 2011, was injured, and Rodney was fresh from a disappointing 2011 campaign with the Angels that saw him register a 3-5 record with a 4.59 ERA and a gaudy 1.69 WHIP in 39 games.
Prone to creating ninth inning drama for his team in the past, Rodney did save 37 out of 38 games for Detroit in 2009, but his ERA was 4.40 and his lack of command was evident via his 1.47 WHIP. This season, he has pounded the strike zone, walking eight batters in 52 innings compared to 28 in 32 frames last year.
Rodney is a key reason why the Rays – a team that boasts one of the best starting rotations in baseball but also one of the least productive lineups – lead the American League wild card race with a 62-52 record.
Not only has the eccentric native of the Dominican Republic have a sub-1.00 ERA, but he also cultivated a streak of 22 consecutive scoreless innings reached an end last Wednesday against Toronto.
In recent years, especially since they became a contender in 2008, the Rays have rebuilt their bullpen every off-season. Since that AL pennant winning season in 2008, Tampa Bay has seen a different reliever lead the team in saves. Troy Percival led the club with 28 saves in 2008. A year later, J.P. Howell recorded a team-high 17 saves. Then there was Rafael Soriano (45 saves in 2010) and Kyle Farnsworth (25 saves in 2011).
Even if he does not join Eckersley and Papelbon in the baseball history books, the veteran of 10 Major League seasons has achieved the goal of reestablishing himself after two lackluster years with the Angels. It will likely mean he has a home in Tampa Bay, at least through 2013. He has an affordable $2.5 million club option for next season.