K-Rod's new delivery a balancing act

K-Rod's new delivery a balancing act

MINNEAPOLIS -- There is something subtly different in Francisco Rodriguez's delivery. It's no longer rated "V" for violent.

Acknowledging that too much movement is never a good thing for a pitcher, K-Rod has taken steps to alleviate stress on his body by adopting a more compact delivery. The primary focus is on keeping his left leg tighter and softening his landing on his left ankle, which has recently given him problems at times.

"Before, I used to be more open, swinging my leg around," K-Rod said before Thursday's series finale against the Twins at the Metrodome. "I'm trying to take a little pressure off my left ankle. It's been really painful after every outing. That's because my delivery was so violent.

"The [Angels' certified athletic] trainers [Ned Bergert and Rick Smith] have been doing a great job with exercises, putting tape on it. As long as I do my treadmill -- exercises to make it stronger -- I'll be fine. It's not a big deal.

"I just have to make sure not to land so hard. It's the only change I've made. Now [the delivery] is more on a line, not toward first base. Now it's quick, short, let it go."

With free agency on the horizon after this season, K-Rod enters what could be his final year with the Angels making $10 million, a figure set when he lost his arbitration case this past offseason.

Determined to be even better than ever at 26, Rodriguez opened his season in characteristic fashion on Wednesday night, picking up the save in a 1-0 victory carved by Joe Saunders' eight brilliant innings.

K-Rod has become increasingly comfortable with his changeup as a third pitch to complement his exploding fastball and wicked breaking ball. He used the changeup to draw a game-ending double-play grounder from dangerous Joe Mauer after walking the leadoff man in the ninth on four pitches.

"I've been pretty comfortable with it, in winter ball [in Venezuela], late in the season, all spring," Rodriguez said. "With the changeup, I feel comfortable throwing it in any count, any situation."

Known for his killer breaking ball, K-Rod still has it but is no longer madly in love with it. He said he can't recall the last time he used it on back-to-back deliveries.

Rodriguez's radar readings were down on his fastball in the opener, in the low 90s, but he felt nothing to be concerned about, maintaining that the alteration in his delivery has taken nothing away from his heater.

"It's all in the landing -- it's not anything [to do with] before," K-Rod said. "I've already released the ball.

"My velocity feels fine. That was my first outing. We've got a long ways to go."

Rodriguez might not have been quite as dominant in 2007 as in previous seasons, but his production was about the same. He reached the 40-save plateau for the third consecutive season, and that didn't include the All-Star Game he saved for the American League in San Francisco.

K-Rod -- Saved by an Angel

His 2.81 ERA was his highest since 2003 when he had a 3.03 ERA as a setup man. His 90 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings were reflective of his career pace, but his 34 walks were up, and his .204 average against was the highest of his remarkable career. In his 332 career appearance, hitters have batted .185 against the man from Caracas.

Manager Mike Scioscia has observed the alteration in his closer's delivery and sees only good things coming from it.

"He's trying to get more on balance in the finish," Scioscia said. "He's making a conscious effort to refine some things to give him that consistent release point and command.

"I think he's made some strides, and we'll see it in his consistency. He's trying to be in a better position from the start, so he's more consistent with his delivery."

Loyal to those who have performed for him, Scioscia is unwavering in his position on this subject.

In K-Rod he trusts.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.