PHOENIX – When Sean Rodriguez came off the disabled list just five months after major shoulder surgery on his non-throwing arm, a lot of folks wondered if the veteran and first-year Brave was pushing it a bit and coming back too soon, especially given that he went 3-for-29 with 12 strikeouts in 11 injury-rehab games at four minor league levels.
So the response has been predictable on social media while Rodriguez has gone 1-for-14 with four walks and eight strikeouts in his first six games (four starts) off the disabled list. There have been a lot of comments on Twitter and Facebook along the lines of “I knew he came back too soon” and “He needs to spend more time in the minors.”
Rodriguez understands the reaction but isn’t surprised that he’s struggled initially – something that probably wasn’t going to change if he spent another week or two in Triple-A.
“I mean, naturally, when you’re talking about jumping into what is, quote-unquote, my opening day after the All-Star break and (other) guys are in midseason form,” said Rodriguez, 32, who was injured along with his wife and two of their children in a Jan. 28 automobile accident when the SUV he was driving was struck by the driver of a stolen police cruiser who ran through a red light (the driver of the stolen car died after the car burst into flames).
I asked him in Los Angeles this weekend if he would've felt a bit apprehensive regardless of whether he came back when he did or a few weeks later.
“I feel like at any level that’s going to be tough (jumping back in at midseason). So I don’t want to say I was apprehensive,” Rodriguez said. “I just basically said, you know what, I’m going to take it in stride. Obviously I can probably catch on a lot quicker than most people might expect and still feel like I can benefit and help the team win.”
He had his first hit in most recent start Saturday against the Dodgers, after getting two walks and scoring two runs in Friday’s 12-3 win at L.A. He’s had three starts at third base and one at second base, just a couple of the seven positions Rodriguez played last year in his career-best season with the Pirates (all but catcher and pitcher).
He has just one hit but does have a .316 OBP including a hit-by-pitch and the four walks, one of which loaded the bases with two out in the ninth inning in a one-run game against the Cubs (the Braves didn’t capitalize and lost 4-3).
He botched the second ground ball hit to him in his first game back, but otherwise has been solid in the field. And even though the offense could take a while to come around, Rodriguez said he feels good, that he's healthy, and that’s the most important thing for him and for the Braves, who activated him because they believe he can help them in their hopeful push for a wild-card spot.
Keep in mind, this is a guy who last season set career highs in batting average (.270), home runs (18), RBIs (56), OBP (.349), slugging percentage (.510) and games played (140), among other statistics.
After signing a two-year, $11.5 million contract, Rodriguez could easily have sat out the entire season recovering from Feb. 14 surgery to repair his torn rotator cuff, damaged labrum and biceps tendon. Everyone in the Braves organization would have understood if he needed the entire year to recover, since initially no one expected him back before September even in a best-cast scenario.
That he busted his tail working out and going through countless hours of rehab every day to make it back so soon was commendable, regardless of the early results since he was activated. Teammates saw him every day during homestands and appreciated his attitude and desire to get back as soon as possible.
We shouldn’t be surprised if Rodriguez puts it together before much longer. After all, he already defied all predictions about how long it would take for him to make it back.
And depending upon what happens with second baseman Brandon Phillips and first baseman Matt Adams this week with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching (July 31), it might be particularly beneficial having Rodriguez back sooner than expected, especially with shortstop Dansby Swanson continuing to struggle mightily.
The Braves also like how Rodriguez has spent time talking to Swanson during the rookie's difficult first full season and also set a good example for ascendant rookie Johan Camargo, whose locker was beside Rodriguez's during the four-game series at Dodger Stadium.
Bottom line, of course, Rodriguez needs to perform. And he's confident that he will.
“I’m feeling healthy," he said. "Shoulder gets a little sore, but I mean it’s more like normal sore that you might get after a workout, or what the body feels after maybe a tough road trip,” he said during the Dodgers series. “So it’s not a major thing that affects any kind of range of motion or movement. Which is good.
“I feel like things are starting to come together. The swing feels good, just a matter of trusting what I’m working on. I know what my approach has to be and what I want it to be, and it’ll be there consistently once I get that feeling of trust behind what I want to do and it just starts to flow a little better.”
• I'll close with the great Glen Campbell's version of this Jimmie Webb-penned classic.
"BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX" by Glen Campbell
She'll be rising
She'll find the note I left hanging on her door
She'll laugh, when she reads the part that says I'm leaving
Cause I've left that girl, so many times before
She'll be working
She'll probably stop at lunch,
And give me a call
But she'll just hear that phone keep on ringing
Off the wall, that's all
She'll be sleeping
She'll turn softly and call my name out low
And she'll cry, just to think, I'd really leave her
Though time and time I've tried to tell her so
She just didn't know,
I would really go