Sean Rodriguez joining Braves; this could be good

 

One look at Sean Rodriguez’s statistics during his two-week minor league rehab assignment would suggest that perhaps the Braves are activating the 32-year-old multi-position veteran a bit too soon. I mean, he went 3-for-39 (.077) with one double, five walks, 12 strikeouts and a .191 OBP and .103 slugging percentage in 11 games at four different levels from rookie ball to Triple-A.

Sean Rodriguez set personal bests in most offensive categories in 2017 with the Pirates. (AP photo)

That included 1-for-18 in five games with Triple-A Gwinnett, going 0-for-12 in his last three rehab games in a series at Charlotte. Rodriguez was 1-for-21 with 11 strikeouts in his final five rehab games over a five-day stretch through Saturday, then got Sunday off before he’s activated tonight along with Danny Santana in a couple of moves that should help give the Braves a bench that’s extremely versatile and far better than the one they had for much of the early season. That is, if Rodriguez is ready.

The man had major shoulder surgery Feb. 14. Surgery that many of us thought would almost certainly sideline him for the entire season.

Rodriguez says he’s as excited as “a kid on his birthday”

We know Santana is ready. He was playing his best baseball before going on the DL during the final series before the All-Star break with a leg infection, which thankfully for him and the Braves turned out to be nothing severe such as a staph infection that might’ve kept him out more than a month.  Santana played three rehab games for Gwinnett Friday through Sunday and went 7-for-9 with four RBIs in the last two of them including a 5-for-5 game Saturday. Yeah, he’s ready.

But Rodriguez?

Well, we’ll see. But here’s the thing: The Braves are activating him because they are that confident of the impact he can make both in the field and in the clubhouse and dugout, even if it takes a little longer for his offense to catch up.

This is a guy who has already impressed teammates, team officials and coaches to such a degree that once he said he was ready to play, you had a feeling no one was going to tell him he couldn’t.

They love this guy already, just like his Pirates teammates did. And chances seem pretty good that he’ll become as popular with Braves fans as he was with Pirates fans, who loved his hard-nosed approach, his versatility and blue-collar attitude, his tenacity and fearlessness, how he was always front and center if anyone wanted to mess with the Pirates.

Folks here will surely like those same traits, assuming Rodriguez performs at a high level now or at least eventually (he’s signed through the 2018 season). Because as we saw with Bartolo Colon, being one of the most popular guys in all of baseball in 2016 as Colon was, being a lovable and almost cartoon-ish character, doesn’t mean anything if you fall on your face repeatedly when it comes time to perform.

The cheers turned to boos quickly for Big Sexy in ATL.

Then again, Rodriguez is no cartoon-ish character. Not by a mile. He’s been called Serpico for his physical resemblance to the bearded cop who was played by Al Pacino in the classic 1973 Sidney Lumet movie. And a lot of baseball fans outside Pittsburgh knew Rodriguez more than anything for the video of him angrily punching a dugout water cooler multiple times a couple of years ago. He’s the first to admit, he has a temper.

Which seems hard to believe if you’ve not seen that video or other shots of him shouting on a field. Because when you talk to him, he’s soft-spoken, makes a lot of references to God and to his family, comes across as anything but a hothead.

Rodriguez has experience at every position except catcher. (AP file photo)

It’s the competitive side of Rodriguez that triggers the beast within. And  when he can channel that energy and anger – like John Lydon once sang, “anger is an energy” – Rodriguez can be a force on a baseball field. Never was that more evident than in 2016, when he had his best season with the Pirates, playing seven different positions and setting career highs in batting average (.270), home runs (18), RBIs (56), OBP (.349), slugging percentage (.510) and games played (140), among other stats.

The Braves signed him to a two-year, $11.5 million contract in November and planned for him to start the season as their primary second baseman, then move him to a multi-position role when prospect Ozzie Albies reached the big leagues. But that was before Jan. 28, when Rodriguez was driving an SUV with his wife and two of their four children on board, and the vehicle was T-boned by a stolen police cruiser in the middle of the afternoon.

His wife and their two sons sustained injuries that required hospitalization – all are doing well now – and Rodriguez had a sore left (non-throwing) shoulder that he didn’t think was injured severely and that he wasn’t too worried about because his entire focus was on his wife and her broken bones and his sons, one of whom had a broken orbital bone around his eye.

After they all began to heal, nearly two weeks later Rodriguez figured he better get his shoulder checked more thoroughly, since it was still throbbing when he tried to raise it.

Turns out he had major injuries including a torn rotator cuff and labrum damage, along with a biceps tendon that had to be relocated. The Braves and Rodriguez wouldn’t give any timetable for his return, perhaps because they didn’t know. But privately, most in the organization figured it was unlikely he’d return before September if he returned at all in 2017.

Five months later, he’s back. And that in and of itself says plenty about the guy, who’s been a fixture in the Braves training room and workout facilities at SunTrust Park since the week before the season began. He went from looking rather frail a week after his surgery when he stopped by Braves spring training with his arm in a sling, to having a lean but muscular physique now that looks like someone who’s spent an awful lot of time in the gym.

TV cameras have often shown him in uniform in the Braves dugout during games. One night, there were repeated shots of him standing with Dansby Swanson, talking to the rookie shortstop during a game in which a struggling Swanson was out of the lineup. Swanson has listened intently to Rodriguez, learning from the former third-round draft pick (2003) who spent five seasons in the minor leagues before his major league debut with the Angels in 2008, didn’t get 200 plate appearances in a season until 2010, and never had a full-season batting average above .251 or an OPS above .705 until last year’s .270/.859 in his age-31 season.

“I definitely enjoy my time around him,” Swanson said. “I like talking to him in the dugout just because he has so much to offer. He’s a good guy to talk to about whatever it may be. He’s worked unbelieavably hard to get back to this point and we’re really happy for him that he’s getting closer and closer to being able to make a return. Just extremely happy for him that he’s been able to come back after what everybody thought might be a season-ending kind of thing.”

Ready or not, Sean Rodriguez is about to become a Brave in full, an active player. Atlanta’s about to see what he’s about.

• Let’s close with this one from one of America’s finest and most underrated singer-songwriters, Alejandro Escovedo. He wrote this one with Chuck Prophet.

“ALWAYS A FRIEND” by Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo

Wasn’t I always a friend to you
Wasn’t I always a friend to you
Do you wanna be my friend
Do you wanna be my friend
Every once in a while honey let your love show
Every once in a while honey let yourself go
Nobody gets hurt no nah
Nobody gets hurt

We came here as two, we laid down as one
I don’t care if I’m not your only one
What I see in you, you see in me
But if I do you wrong
Smoke my smoke, drink my wine
Bury my snakeskin boots somewhere I’ll never find
Still be your lover, baby
Oh-oh oh oh-oh oh

Wasn’t I always a friend to you
Wasn’t I always a friend to you
Do you wanna be my friend
Do you wanna be my friend
Every once in a while honey let your love show
Every once in a while honey let yourself go
Nobody gets hurt no nah
Nobody gets hurt

Well I could be an astronaut on the wrong side of the Moon
Or wrapped up like a baby on a bus home to you
Wherever I go, will you go with me?
But if I do you wrong
Take the master suite, I’ll take the floor
Sleep in late, get your rest
I’ll catch up on mine
Still be your lover, baby
Oh-oh oh oh-oh oh

It’s only love
Oh-oh oh oh-oh oh


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