Ro­driguez tries to look ahead

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Baseball - Bill Brink: bbrink@postgazette.com and Twit­ter @BrinkPG.

At Pi­ratesFest, Ro­driguez pointed to the 2016 di­lu­tion of the “one team, one goal” mind­set that worked so well in 2015 and, as for the rest of the front of­fice aside from Hunt­ing­ton — “I know there’s a busi­ness side to it. I don’t know who’s at the fore­front of it. Um, I kind of do. And I’m not tak­ing shots at Neal, that’s for sure, be­cause it’s not nec­es­sar­ily him.”

Wed­nes­day, he echoed Fran­cisco Cervelli’s thoughts, ac­knowl­edg­ing the loss of two stal­warts while be­liev­ing in the need to look ahead.

“You can’t re­place An­drew,” Ro­driguez said. “An­drew McCutchen’s not the kind of player or per­son that’s re­place­able. Cole, ob­vi­ously, is not too far from that.

“I like to take the mir­ror ef­fect. Ba­si­cally, you keep mov­ing for­ward, you keep look­ing for­ward, but you def­i­nitely need the past to re­flect on and to build on. Just take it as if there’s al­ways a mir­ror sit­ting in front of you where you can look back and re­flect on that with­out look­ing back.” It would be­hoove Ro­driguez to re­flect on his past with the Pi­rates. He spent 2015 and 2016 with the team, play­ing 139 and 140 games. A strong Septem­ber in 2016 led him to fin­ish with a .270/.349/.510 line, with 18 home runs and a ca­reer-best 127 OPS-plus (a met­ric which ad­justs on-base plus slug­ging per­cent­age for league and park ef­fects, with 100 the league av­er­age). He left for At­lanta in 2017, hav­ing earned a shot at more play­ing time and a two-year, $11.5 mil­lion con­tract. Af­ter a stolen po­lice cruiser col­lided with his car in Mi­ami in Jan­uary 2017, Ro­driguez re­quired surgery to re­pair a torn left ro­ta­tor cuff, a dis­lo­cated bi­ceps ten­don and labrum dam­age. The in­juries kept him out un­til July.

He played 15 games for the Braves be­fore they traded him back to the Pi­rates, and he played 39 games for them, post­ing only a .572 com­bined OPS as his shoul­der re­gained strength. Ro­driguez said the shoul­der was stronger than be­fore the ac­ci­dent, thanks to his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

“He’s healthy,” man­ager Clint Hur­dle said. “His swing is al­ready dif­fer­ent than what we saw the swing of last year, based on health.”

Ro­driguez can play ev­ery po­si­tion but pitcher and catcher, so he likely will move around this sea­son. The cor­ner out­field spots and third base might pro­vide him some play­ing time.

“I don’t ever sit there and say, if I play 100 games this year, I’m happy,” he said.

He men­tioned pre­par­ing for play­ing “180-plus,” mean­ing the post­sea­son run to the World Se­ries. That al­ready dif­fi­cult path got harder with the sub­trac­tion of McCutchen and Cole, and the per­son­nel in the club­house is dif­fer­ent from when Ro­driguez pre­vi­ously spent full sea­sons with the Pi­rates.

“The ones I do know look like they’re hun­gry,” he said. “I’m just hop­ing they’re starv­ing. That’s what it’s go­ing to take.”

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