Without tossing a single pitch in 2020, Chris Rodriguez entered the 2021 season as the No. 6 Prospect in the Angels farm system. His Minor League career to this point was plagued with injuries that placed the right-hander out of commission for three consecutive seasons, with the exception of three starts in 2019 (with High-A Inland Empire 66ers) before back surgery shut him down indefinitely. After a long road of rehabbing and finding his way back to the mound pain free, Rodriguez dazzled in Spring Training with 10 strikeouts in eight appearances (8 innings), while touching 98 MPH on the radar gun numerous times.
When the former 4th Round pick in 2016 (126th Overall) was selected to the Angels Opening Day roster, his much awaited debut came on the second day of the regular season. The Florida native completed two shutout innings of relief against the Chicago White Sox on April 2 at Angel Stadium, yielding just two hits and striking out three.
This performance steamrolled into a great first month of the season that saw Rodriguez go 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA and 17 Strikeouts in 8 games (15.2 IP), with his first Major League Win coming on April 25 against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Unfortunately, the injury bug found its way back to the rookie as he landed on the Injured-List on May 6 with Right shoulder inflammation, sidelining him until June 7.
Making his return from the Injured-List did not come with the results he or the Angels were hoping for. In limited action (5 total appearances), Rodriguez allowed four earned runs in four innings before being sent down to Double-A Rocket City on June 21 to strengthen his arm and work on becoming a starting pitcher. His minor league journey spanned the entire month of July pitching in five games with the Trash Pandas and three with Triple-A Salt Lake. He went 0-1 with a 4.87 ERA, but it was not the stats the Angels cared about, it was the experience and longevity he gained as a starter.
This experience translated into his first Major League start on August 2 at Globe Life Field versus the Texas Rangers. Even though Rodriguez suffered the tough luck loss, falling to the Rangers 4-1, he shined with a quality start of six innings (allowed just three runs on four hits) and striking out a season-best seven batters.
After his final start against the Blue Jays on August 10, Rodriguez would not return to the field for the remainder of the 2021 season due to a lat muscle injury.
15 Games / 2 Starts / 2-1 Record / 3.64 ERA / 29.2 Innings Pitched / 29 Strikeouts / 15 Walks / 1.45 WHIP / .243 Opp Avg. / 28 Hits Allowed / 14 Runs Allowed / 0 Home Runs Allowed
As a primary relief pitcher, even with two spot starts during 2021, Rodriguez is a five-pitch pitcher who heavily relies upon his power Sinker (63%). It zips in the zone around 95 MPH, while having the ability to cover most of the plate regardless of the batter (left or right-handed). The Sinker converted 19 strikeouts along with a drastic 17.7 inch Horizontal break, correlating to a 54.7% ground-ball rate. Surprisingly, his Curveball, which is used only 24.2% of the time, has great effect throwing opponents off with just a .136 Opp Average and 34% Whiff rate. The utilization of his arsenal helped his situational splits especially against lefties with a .213 Opp Average over 12.2 innings, while halting runners in scoring position to just above the Mendoza line at .206 with five strikeouts.
BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
There were many memorable moments from the rookie right-hander this season, but it was his last appearance on August 10 against the Toronto Blue Jays that put a bow on a great season prior to a season-ending lat injury. In the first game of a doubleheader (which was listed as an Angels road game due to a rainout in April) Rodriguez received the spot start and cut through the teeth of a tough Blue Jays that included George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien. Through four strong innings, Rodriguez yielded just one run on six hits with a pair of strikeouts.
The biggest moment occurred in the bottom of the fourth (2-1 Angels lead) as Springer stepped to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. Rodriguez induced an inning ending 5-4-3 double play, turned impeccable by David Fletcher. This momentum shift kept the Halos in the driver’s seat and eventually led to a 6-3 victory.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022
Rodriguez was set to compete for a spot in the bullpen this upcoming season, however on November 8, the Angels announced he would miss the majority of 2022 due to capsule repair surgery in his throwing shoulder (right). This takes him out of the running for being one of the best options in high-leverage situations. Rodriguez will still be an intrical part of the Angels pitching plans when he returns healthy, especially with a favorable rookie contract that pays the right-hander just $575,000 AAV per/year. The biggest and most obvious thing for Rodriguez to improve on this offseason would be his health. What is the best ability… availability!