Brewers’ Rodriguez shines despite limited activity

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Four months after he raised eyebrows by signing a two-year contract to return to the Milwaukee Brewers, right-hander Francisco Rodriguez is quietly emerging as the team’s leading All-Star candidate as well as its most valuable asset as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

Rodriguez worked around a two-out double Wednesday to record his second save in as many nights and 15th in 15 chances this season as the Brewers beat the New York Mets 4-1.

“He has been great, he really has,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “You see some guys with 20 saves already, but he’s been lights out every time we’ve given him the ball. This is his fifth year here, and I don’t remember him being any better than this. Just think how he has pitched. His execution and his innings have been impressive. They’ve been dominant.”

Rodriguez is 0-2 with a 1.00 ERA this season, fine numbers by any standard, but his impact on the team’s fortunes has been minimal because of Milwaukee’s abhorrent play this season.

The Brewers are 19 games below .500 and seemingly have been out of contention since Opening Day, when they were trounced 10-0 by the Colorado Rockies. With the team rarely in position for saves, Rodriguez has been used sparingly: 27 appearances, 27 innings on the season.

The reduced workload is forcing Rodriguez to find different ways to stay sharp. He is throwing extra bullpen sessions and doing additional side work to keep his arm strong.

“We are almost to July, and I don’t feel like I’m there yet as far as arm strength,” Rodriguez said. “I’m the type of pitcher that the more that I pitch, the better I feel, so hopefully we can get on a streak and I can start pitching more often.”

While trade rumors pick up steam, Rodriguez more than likely will be the Brewers’ representative at the All-Star game next month in Cincinnati. However, Counsell is optimistic Rodriguez will have some competition for that spot.

“I hope somebody makes it difficult for Frankie to be the All-Star, because that means somebody is going to have a great couple of weeks,” Counsell said. “That would be great. Right now, it’s probably him, but I hope somebody has a great couple of weeks and makes it hard.”