When Fernando Rodney jogged into the game from the bullpen of the Rogers Centre — hat askew, the constant look of calm disinterest on his face — manager Lloyd McClendon wasn’t worried. And Rodney went on to pitch a 1-2-3 inning to preserve Seattle’s 3-2 win on Saturday.
TORONTO — When Fernando Rodney jogged into the game from the bullpen of the Rogers Centre — hat askew, the constant look of calm disinterest on his face — manager Lloyd McClendon wasn’t worried.
Less than 24 hours earlier, McClendon watched a Rodney turn a comfortable 4-1 lead into a 4-3 Maalox-chugging, nail-biter of a save over the Blue Jays. And now Rodney was coming in with the slimmest of margins — a 3-2 lead.
It’s rarely simple with Rodney. Runners have a way of reaching base when he’s on the mound, via a walk or a hit or both. It had been worse of late, having allowed base runners in his last six outings and runs in the last four.
Mariners fans watching on television feared for the worst, and Twitter users prepared for the reactionary vitriol.
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Then something unexpected happened.
Rodney dominated, working a 1-2-3 ninth inning, showing a fastball that touched 98 mph and a Bugs Bunny changeup that left hitters flailing, while notching his 12th save in 13 chances this season.
“How about that?” McClendon said with a chuckle. “I told you, ‘They’re different animals.’ He turned it up a notch.”
McClendon was referencing his pregame meeting with the media.
With Rodney giving up a two-run homer and facing the tying run at the plate twice before wiggling out of Friday night’s win with a save, the subject of his adventures and his 6.61 earned-run average were discussed at length.
“He gets those one-run leads, I think he’s a little bit more focused,” McClendon said. “Three-run lead, he’s a little more relaxed. It’s just the animal that most closers are. It’s not just him. I’ve seen it with other guys, too. It gets within one or two and they tighten down.”
McClendon saw Rodney tighten down once he gave up the two-run homer to Chris Colabello with one out. Logan Morrison made a brilliant play on a bunt from Kevin Pillar for the second out, and after falling behind 3-0 to pinch-hitter Josh Donaldson, Rodney got him to fly out on the next pitch.
“You look at last night, the 3-0 pitch to Donaldson — that was painted. Before that he was in the middle of the plate,” McClendon said. “That 3-0 pitch was right on the black. Do you like it? No. But it is what it is. That’s the animal that they are.”
Rodney admitted that it feels different even though he doesn’t want it to be.
“I love that situation,” he said. “When I have a game that’s one run, I feel invincible. I know I can do it with a one-run lead. I know I can do my job. I know I can throw strikes. I can throw a little bit harder.”
Beyond the score of the game, Rodney felt like Saturday’s success was having pitched three times in the last four games.
“I felt different today,” he said. “The more I pitch, the more I’m in the game, the more consistent I am. You know the last few weeks, they haven’t used me too much. I came into one game with six days’ rest. I don’t feel bad, but it affects me. Sometimes I try to throw it over and make a good pitch, but the changeup hangs a little bit.”
Even with the struggles of Friday, he had more feel and command on Saturday.
“Maybe if I don’t pitch last night, that happens today,” he said. “I was telling (bullpen coach Mike) Rojas today in the bullpen that I feel more loose today. I feel more like who I want to be when I come into the game.”
“If I pitch tomorrow, I’m going to be more comfortable and more successful because I’m going to see where I want to throw the ball and know where it’s going to go,” he said. “Sometimes when you have too much rest — there no is no feel.”
As for an ERA that starts with the numeral six, Rodney just shrugged it off.
“It doesn’t bother me because it’s the first two months of the season,” he said. “I know it’s going to come down. Like I said, the more chances I get out there, the more it’s going to go down.
McClendon wasn’t quite as diplomatic.
“Our closer is what he is,” McClendon said. “Hopefully he’s 49 out of 50 with a 6.00 ERA. I don’t give a (expletive). I don’t care about his ERA. Just close the games out. Sometimes it’s not easy.”
• Kyle Seager’s solo home run in the second inning off Mark Buehrle was Seattle’s 53rd homer overall this season. And it was their 40th homer without anyone on base.