Dodgers' pitcher won't let excuses get in the way of success
LA Dodgers pitcher Paco Rodriguez can look back in his 2013 season with tremendous pride.
Most of it anyway.
It was the 22-year-old's first season in the Major League, the lefty with the awkward arm angle coming on to the scene with a bang.
He had a 1.88 earned run average and two home runs allowed in the first five months of the year.
But then he allowed three home runs in September while walking six, against seven strikeouts and a blown-out 5.68 ERA.
Most pundits just thought the youngster burned himself out in the grind of a long and tiring rookie MLB season.
Rodriguez made no excuses though, saying he just pitched badly, so he trained the house down in the off-season.
He made 76 appearances last season - tied for the five-highest in the majors.
That is why his workload will decrease this year in order to keep his effectiveness high.
Look for Rodriguez to come in around the eighth inning this year and provide a sturdy bridge for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to fire his explosive fastball curves.
Here he spoke to APN about learning off one of the best pitchers in the business - $215 million man Clayton Kershaw, who is the highest-paid arm in the game.
Rodriguez added the hype about Kershaw and the Dodgers - one of the favourites to win their first World Series since 2014 - is healthy for success.
How did you feel about coming all the way out here to Australia. Are you enjoying your time?
"This is absolutely awesome. I've had such a great time - checking out the city day to day then coming to practice.
"My body feels great right now and it was awesome what they did with the ballpark.
What do you think of our Sydney Cricket Ground and the way we've converted it into a ballpark? Are you impressed with it?
"Absolutely. You have the Oakland Athletics - their ballpark has the same type of foul territory. It's very big down here and it's good for pitchers because you have more space to get out.
"So for me it works out very well. I don't mind it at all. They did a phenomenal job with the ballpark. It's going to be great just to see fans from here coming out and checking out baseball, because they don't see a lot of it.
Paco, what do you think about your bullpen? How strong is it. You've got some big guns there who are ready to fire this season ...
"It's going to be a challenge for other teams, when you have such great pitchers coming out of the bullpen.
"Sometimes in other teams the bullpen isn't quite as strong. But in our team, it's one of our strong assets.
"I get to learn so much of the others, being a young guy.
"It's something that - once you get to the seventh inning - we're going to throw our best guys out there, and it's going to be very hard for the other team to score runs.
"It's going to be awesome."
So you'll be coming in late and playing an important relieving role?
"My role this year I think is going to be more towards lefties, coming in for one or two hitters at most.
"Last year I had a role where one day it was coming in and getting one batter, and the next day it was coming in for an inning and a third.
"But this year seeing we have so many great arms, for me it's going to be less of a workload.
"But at the same time it's going to be more persistent. I have to be able to get that one hitter that I'm coming in to face.
"It's a great opportunity just to be around these guys and hopefully put up zeroes every time that I get on the bump."
Your main starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw - he's primed for a big season isn't he?
"He's one of those guys - such a good person off the field. He works so hard.
"He's one of those guys that comes in earlier than anybody else, and he leaves later than anybody else.
"It's great to watch that guy pitch, learn from him and watch what he does.
"Because learning from those guys, you know you're going to be successful.
"You follow in their footsteps. You try to do what they do.
"It's something incredible to see. Just being able to talk to them and have them around, it's an absolute honour."
With those massive players around at your ball club, what do you think of being one of the favourites this season? And having so many people believing you guys will be right in the hunt for the club's first World Series title since 1988?
"We have so many veteran guys. For them, it's just about coming out and taking care of your business, and taking care of what you do every single day to be successful.
"For us, we want to be one of the teams with the target on our backs. If we don't have a target on our backs, then we're not supposed to be good.
"That's the type of thing that you want to have and you want to have that pressure, because at the end of the day when it comes to the end of the season, you want to be the best team out there.
"For us it's a pleasure, and it's fun to want to be the best. It gives you another reason just to go out there and try to get as many wins as possible."
And that's Donnie's (Dodgers coach Don 'Baseball' Mattingly) philosophy as well isn't it - embrace the pressure ...
"Oh yeah, embrace the pressure. There's nothing better than to be that team because you've got to have that toughness we all talk about.
"You've got to come out every single day knowing you're going to beat everybody and wanting to beat everybody."
Mate, what's it like playing for someone like Donnie Baseball with everything he's achieved in the game?
"Oh, it's an absolutely pleasure. He's such a great guy off the field. Just learning from him - he understands what it takes to come out everyday and perform at your best.
"That's why it's so great to have him around and learn from him, being a leader trying to make us as good as we can be.
What about playing alongside a guy like Yasiel Puig - what does he bring to the team?
"Oh, that guy - now you've got the other aspect
"You've got the guy that's so fiery and has so much energy, and is coming out of the gates like the Wild Horse, as they call him.
"He's one of those guys who could change a game with one swing, one stolen base.
"He has so many assets - it's incredible to see that much talent on a baseball field."
What have you really enjoyed about Sydney so far?
"I think this place is incredible. I come from Miami and I know what being around the ocean is like and having that scenery.
"But here, there are so many things. Just going around the coast and checking out all the views and enjoying the beaches, and being able to just experience it.
"Me and my buddy took a tour the other day just along the coast to check everything out. It's absolutely gorgeous. Just an amazing place."
What did you think of fight Team Australia put up against you guys, coming so close and losing 4-2? They played tremendous didn't they ...
"Absolutely. It was great to play against the Australian national team.
"It was great to see the talent that there is coming from Australia. I think that's always awesome. You have some of those guys that you play against from the minor leagues.
"You have so much talent coming up, and hopefully they become something big in the United States.
"It was great to see them play and to be a part of it with them."
Do you think there's a real future for Australian baseball from what you've seen so far?
"Yeah. I think it would be great if baseball became bigger here. If you guys create something big with your winter ball (in the Australian summer) and you keep having guys come in to keep playing winter ball, I think that would be an incredible thing.
"It will build up the sport. You'll have guys from all across the world coming in to play and enjoying their time here.
"It'd be awesome if the sport kept growing here."
Paco, can you tell me about the Dodgers' rivalry with the Diamondbacks. It's a fierce one. There was some really strong rivalry last year which led to the "brawl of the season". A couple of incidents that only grew a healthy rivalry ...
"Yeah, absolutely. You always want to have something to give you that little extra competitiveness.
"Between both teams you have so many young guys and so many veteran guys that are coming out to compete, coming out to win ball games and not wanting to lose.
"Sometimes you're going to get into those conflicts where teams are going to get a little fiery.
"It's part of the game. And it's something that you need to understand because guys are so competitive.
"Baseball wouldn't be so great if we weren't so competitive. I think it's absolutely great, and we're just making sure we're doing it professionally.
"That's the biggest thing - sometimes it did get out of hand last year, but it's something that you learn from.
"You want to build from that and understand each other, respect each other at the same time, so you just keep building that rivalry where more fans come out and want to watch that series."
What has an absolute superstar like Magic Johnson brought to the club as a part-owner, with his presence and stature?
"The main thing is the wanting-ness to win. That's the biggest thing that they brought into this organisation.
"It doesn't matter what it takes - you've got the best guys spending as much money as we need to spend.
"That doesn't matter, because you just want the best guys on your team as a group trying to win ball games.
"As a group that's what they brought. Wanting to win ball games and wanting to be the best-known team.
"You want to be on top of everything. When it comes to the LA Dodgers, they want us to be at the top of the line."
Who are your main threats this year - the Red Sox lost some key players, but will they still be up there?
"Absolutely the Red Sox will be right up there. In our division we'll have the Diamondbacks, and San Diego's a good ball club, Colorado.
"We have so many guys in our division, and you have guys from the other divisions. It's going to be great to see who gets hot at the end of the year."
What are some of your own aims for this season, Paco?
"Oh, try to do one point better or one point less of what my stats were last year. It's going to be tough because now this is my second year.
"You have to make adjustments, you have to do a little bit more homework on guys.
"It's going to be something that I need to slowly but surely do my homework on guys so I'm prepared to be able to get those little outs that I need to get to be successful."
Can you explain your background to our regional Australian readers. What was it like playing ball where you came from?
"I grew up in the Hispanic community in Miami. Growing up it was always baseball and growing up in the Hispanic community it was always a battle out there.
"I know so many guys I played pro ball with that I grew up with. It was a great experience to come back now and spread it out to the community and share it to younger kids now."
Any young guys like yourself coming through at the Dodgers who, pitching wise, can make a real impression on the league this year?
"We have so many good arms right now that it's hard to pick one. Our organisation has become so strong, not only in the big league side but the minor league side.
"We have so many young guys coming up and it's hard to pick one or a few.
"We have so many guys that are learning to become big-league pitchers, but they have such great arms and great stuff that, one day it could just click.
"We had so many guys that made an impact in Spring Training, so it's going to be awesome to see."
Aussie pitcher and Brisbane Bandits star Ryan Searle did so well against you guys in Team Australia's 4-2 defeat, pitching three scoreless innings. Did you take much notice of him?
"Yeah, he was a guy that was in Double-A last year and he was playing with some of the guys here.
"He did such a good job against our guys. Hopefully that helps him get to that next step and they see that he can pitch in those big games and be successful."
And do you love the big moments yourself, Paco? Do you thrive on the clutch moments?
"I mean, that's my biggest thing. Coming in during those tough situations to help the team, I think that's one of my favourite things to do.
"Coming through college and pro ball, I always loved those tough situations. That's what I enjoy doing."