ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Fernando Rodney said he has worn his cap tilted to the side ever since 2002, when he was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and wanted to do "something different."
But Rodney has never seen teammates respond to it like the Rays did Saturday, mimicking the style with their green Earth Day hats during batting practice. C Chris Gimenez called it "Rodney BP Day," pointing out even "country boy" Jeff Keppinger joined in.
"That's the first time I've been with a team like that," Rodney said, smiling. "That's something crazy."
Rodney is comfortable and confident in his first season with the Rays, and it shows. He has finished all but one of the team's nine wins, converting five consecutive saves while holding opponents to a .083 average. With Kyle Farnsworth injured, Rodney has returned to a familiar role closing games, just in time to welcome the Angels, who he felt gave up on him too soon last year.
"I'm going to be happy," Rodney said. "I'm in the ninth inning — to show them I can do that."
Rodney, who saved 37 games for Detroit in 2009, had a disappointing stint in Anaheim after signing a two-year, $11 million deal. He lost the closer's role early last season, injured his back and was barely used down the stretch. But having made some mechanical adjustments, Rodney has better command of his fastball and is thriving in a one-year, $2 million deal with Tampa Bay.
"I feel comfortable, they believe, they give you the ball," said Rodney, 35. "They trust you."
Pitching coach Jim Hickey is not surprised, considering Rodney's success with the Tigers. "There's nothing like a little bit of success to make you feel like you're bulletproof and 10 feet tall," Hickey said. "And hopefully, that's the way he feels right now."
Rodney has been loose since joining the Rays in spring training, sometimes dancing and cracking jokes. Teammates have called him Kimbo Slice, due to his resemblance to the famous mixed martial arts star. Rodney has a swagger, but, as reliever J.P. Howell says, "smiles during the ugliest moments and doesn't ever infect anyone with any negativity."
Rodney boasts a mid 90s fastball and what Evan Longoria describes as a "devastating" changeup, but it's his composure that stands out.
"He's got ice in his veins," Longoria said.
Howell was most impressed with Rodney when he closed out the Rays' 1-0 win in Boston on April 16. That's when Rodney first started his post-save routine of pretending to shoot a bow and arrow into the sky. Rodney says he does it because, like the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rays can play nine innings and "make something happen." "I love it, it pumps me up," Howell said.
Said Hickey: "It's like he's shooting an arrow up to the heavens. And he might be doing that, who knows?"
PRICE CHECK: LHP David Price said he physically feels good entering tonight's start with the Angels, another difficult challenge considering he has already faced the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays.
"That's what it's about, if you can get through this and put some good outings (together), it's good for your confidence," Price said.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]