PORTLAND — Bob Kipper won’t call it playing catch-up.

In a business where the objective is for everyone to be able to say, “I’m just passing through,” minor league players and coaches understand theirs is a whirlwind relationship.

This is especially true when a player is acquired via mid-season trade, as Eduardo Rodriguez was by the Boston Red Sox at the Major League trade deadline on July 31.

Assigned to the Portland Sea Dogs, Rodriguez had to adjust to no longer being part of the Baltimore Orioles organization while Kipper, Portland’s pitching coach, had to take a crash course on the 21-year-old Venezuelan lefthander.

“I wouldn’t say ‘playing catch-up.’ It works both ways,” Kipper said. “He’s trying to acclimate himself to a new organization and maybe there are some things that we do here that maybe were done a little differently than Baltimore’s organization. My challenge is getting to know the young man, and you do that by spending time with him. It’s a transition for both and I think he’s made the transition very, very smoothly.”

Rodriguez praised Kipper and the rest of the coaching staff with making that transition smooth in the two weeks plus since Boston acquired him for reliever Andrew Miller,

“We’ve got a good relationship and getting better and better every day,” Rodriguez said. “(Kipper) is a good guy. He’s helping me all the time. The coaching staff, the manager (Billy McMillon), the hitting coach (Rich Gedman), everyone is pretty good here. They help me a lot, on how to pitch, how to read hitters, everything.”

Not surprisingly, Rodriguez hasn’t had a chance to get a sense of what the Red Sox organization has planned for him.

“I just go onto the field and do what I can do. What happens outside the lines is going to happen,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just waiting to hear what (the Red Sox) say, what they want to do with me. But I want to do the best I can do.”

“I’ve got just one goal, and that’s play in the big leagues,” he said.

Many agree he has the tools to attain that goal. Prior to the season, Baseball America ranked him the No. 3 prospect in the Orioles system.

Through three starts with Portland, Kipper likes what he sees. Friday night’s win over Richmond improved Rodriguez’s record to 2-0. In 17 1/3 innings, he’s allowed one earned run, 13 hits and four walks while striking out 23.

“He has an athletic body, has an athletic delivery, a quick arm,” said Kipper, who also saw Rodriguez make three starts against Portland as a member of the Orioles Double-A team, Bowie, the past two years. “He attacks, which is what we’ve seen here. He pitches to contact. He loves his fastball. He uses it and has commanded it up to this point.”

Rodriguez may love his fastball, which usually registers in the low 90s, but Kipper is equally excited about how his off-speed is developing.

“I love his change-up,” Kipper said. “He has used that pitch very, very well to complement his fastball. He’s shown the ability to throw it in big situations, shown the ability to throw it in different counts. He’s got a power slider. There’s a lot to like there. The list goes on and on.”

“And he’s 21,” Kipper added.

Perhaps Rodriguez’s youth, and the growing pains often associated with such, were the reason he struggled this season before the trade. He was 4-7 with a 4.31 ERA for Bowie.

Rodriguez isn’t sure why he struggled after a strong 2013 season split between High-A and Double-A. But he thinks Kipper’s affection for his change-up is paying off, because the Sea Dogs are calling the pitch more frequently.

“I didn’t use it like I use it right now,” he said. “I always used fastball, slider, change-up, and now I use fastball, change-up, slider. I’m throwing it in different counts. I’m throwing it behind and early (in the count).”

If his success continues, Rodriguez could envision the change-up becoming his favorite pitch, especially since it was the weapon of choice for his boyhood hero, fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana.

Rodriguez got a chance to meet the two-time Cy Young Award winner during Baltimore’s spring training before Santana’s comeback bid was cut short by a torn Achilles tendon.

“He’s a pretty good guy. He helped me a little bit with the change-up,” Rodriguez said. “He told me, ‘Just do what you do and let everyone else think what they think.'”

Minor league observers project Rodriguez as a low-to-mid-rotation starter. If he continues dominating the way he has in his short stay with the Sea Dogs, perhaps one day they will think he’s another Johan Santana.


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