If anyone on the 2014 Tri-City Dust Devils has a right to complain, it’s pitcher Helmis Rodriguez.
Rodriguez leads the Northwest League in ERA, giving up just 2.05 runs a game to a tough row of NWL hitters.
The 20-year-old Venezuelan left-hander is also second in the league in innings pitched at 61 1/3 and first on the Dust Devils with 33 strikeouts.
But his teammates haven’t helped him much on offense.
In his 10 starts, the Dust Devils have averaged just 2.34 runs per nine innings. In his six starts on the road, that run support — just two runs in 38 innings — drops to less than half a run a game.
But Rodriguez, a tireless worker and fearless competitor, doesn’t sweat what he cannot control. Instead, he keeps going about his business of retiring opposing batters — a job at which he’s become very good.
“I pitch for my team, not for myself. When the offense isn’t having a good day, I say, ‘We’ll get them the next day,’ ” Rodriguez said.
Despite his youth, Rodriguez has made himself a valuable role model for his teammates, not just for his work on the field, but off it as well.
Last season, the 5-foot-11 former free agent went 2-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 15 games with Grand Junction — the Colorado Rockies’ rookie affiliate. But he showed significant progress during spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“A year ago, you wouldn’t know he’d be one of the top pitchers in the Northwest League,” Tri-City pitching coach Frank Gonzales said. “The key is how he’s attacked the zone with the fastball. Now he’s got the balance of pitches with the changeup being his best off-speed pitch with improvements on his breaking ball.
“But it’s his competitive nature really sticks out on the mound.”
His catchers enjoy that aspect of his personality as well.
“I remember one game in Spokane, we must have thrown 80 out of 88 pitches, all fastballs. He was just jamming guys left and right,” Dust Devils catcher Robbie Perkins said. “He’s just a real energetic guy, what I’d call a baller. He’s not afraid to pitch to anyone.
“I caught him in Grand Junction last year, and the difference between him last year and this year is unbelievable.”
Part of the credit goes to his twin brother Herlis, an outfielder playing for the Clearwater (Fla.) Thrashers, a High-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“He helped me with my English, and when I’m not happy he tells me to keep my head high,” Rodriguez said.
Helmis said it’s been a while since he got a chance to face his brother at the plate, but he longs for a chance to face him from the mound someday, maybe at the big-league level.
“In four years, I haven’t pitched to him. The last time was before I signed (with Colorado in 2010), and he hit a base hit between first and second. He’s pretty good.”
Helmis is good enough to be recognized as one of four Dust Devils named to play in the NWL All-Star game Wednesday in Eugene. It’s an honor he doens’t take lightly.
“I feel happy because I never was an all-star. This is my first time,” he said. “I appreciate the opportunity.”
Rodriguez has always found inspiration in the game of baseball. Lately, he has a little more to pitch for after his girlfriend gave birth to his daughter Hellen ust 9 months ago.
“Before God blessed me with a daughter, I worked really hard, but now I’m more focused,” he said. “Before my daughter, I was thinking that my mother, my father need my help. Now I’m thinking of my daughter too.”
Gonzales appreciates just about everything that makes up his potential star lefty, but that doesn’t mean Rodriguez is immune to a bit of teasing from time to time.
“He’ll kill me for saying this, but I’m going to anyway. He resembles Aladdin,” Gonzales said. “You’ll find him in mysterious places every once in a while, up here, sitting over there, giving you that quirky little smile.”
Rodriguez may not have the powers of a genie, but he’ll continue to try to make the Dust Devils wishes come true.
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; firstname.lastname@example.org