K-Rod set for Tigers debut Saturday

Vet reliever doesn't need lot of time to prep for season

K-Rod set for Tigers debut Saturday

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Francisco Rodriguez is on track to make his Tigers debut on Saturday against the Pirates. He'll be about a week and a half behind most of the other pitchers in camp. He'll be right on his schedule, maybe even a little ahead, for what he needs to be ready for Opening Day.

While the Tigers readied for Wednesday's 11-5 win over the Nationals at Joker Marchant Stadium, Rodriguez threw 25 pitches to hitters on one of the back fields at Tigertown. He picked up the intensity a bit from his previous live batting practice session and will build from there when he enters games.

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"Right now, I'm focused more on locating than anything else," Rodriguez said. "Obviously I'm trying to use my offspeed pitches. But right now my main thing is to get my arm strength, long-toss a little more, just get stamina up in my body. That's pretty much how the process goes. …

"Take it step by step and make sure when I get on the mound, I'm close to 100 percent."

He felt sore, he said, but he called it normal soreness in his muscles. No pain. No swelling. Just sore.

It's the kind of buildup many Tigers pitchers did a couple of weeks ago, right around the time Rodriguez had arrived in camp after resolving his work visa situation. Even if Rodriguez hadn't been delayed by paperwork, though, he might have been on a slow rampup.

Talk to baseball people about why Spring Training lasts six weeks, and pitching is the reason. Starters need to stretch out at a deliberate pace to protect their arms. Same goes for relievers as they ramp up their fastballs. All of them have pitches they want or need to work on. Hitters, for the most part, could be ready in less time in a lot of cases.

Rodriguez is a notable exception. Fourteen years after he broke into the big leagues with the eventual 2002 World Series champion Angels, and a decade after he established himself among the game's great closers, the 34-year-old knows what he needs to do to be ready. A full Spring Training schedule of games is not on the list.

"Usually between five and six [outings] is normal," he said. "We're probably going to have a little more than that."

He has a track record to back him up.

Rodriguez didn't have a team last year at this time, finally re-signing with the Brewers on March 14. He pitched in five Spring Training games, made the Opening Day roster, pitched in the two of the first three games of the regular season, and went on to save 38 games in 60 appearances.

In '14, he signed with the Brewers just before camp opened, pitched in six Cactus League contests, picked up the save on Opening Day, then led the Majors with 66 games finished to go with 44 saves.

Rodriguez didn't pitch in any Spring Training games in '13, because he didn't sign with the Brewers until mid-April. He hasn't had a full Spring Training of work since '12. He hasn't had a bad season to regret it.

"There's no concern on my part whatsoever," manager Brad Ausmus said. "With a guy like that, it's more about just physically prepared to play a season, and he's done that many times."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.