Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 4/22/12
HOUSTON By simply stalling Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp from his frightening tear through the National League, Astros right-hander Wandy Rodriguez warranted any number of backslaps and handshakes. The seven shutout innings Rodriguez tossed on Sunday were gratuitous. Rodriguez insisted that nothing has changed beyond his assuming the title of staff ace. His simplified approach to pitching remains unaltered by the increased responsibility. These results are a byproduct of preparation not promotion. Either way, the Astros are most pleased. The Astros salvaged their series finale against the Dodgers at Minute Maid Park, rolling to a 12-0 win and supplying the marvelously effective Rodriguez 11 runs more than necessary to complement his handiwork. After suffering a loss in Washington last Tuesday despite surrendering just one run on five hits over seven innings, Rodriguez (1-2) eliminated that margin for error. He allowed six base runners, only two of which advance into scoring position. He fanned six, including Kemp in the sixth inning, slapping an 0-for-3 collar on Kemp that snapped his power-laden 10-game hit streak. By any definition, Rodriguez was masterful. "Wandy continues to throw the ball well," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "Hes been throwing the ball so well and its nice to see. He had one guy at third base (Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis in the sixth) all afternoon. He continues to throw the ball well and we need it, especially from where he is in the rotation." For the first time in his eight seasons with the Astros (6-10), Rodriguez is fronting the rotation. At 33 he earned his first opening-day starting assignment earlier this month, allowing zero earned runs while pitching into the seventh against the Rockies. Rodriguez lowered his ERA to 1.42 with his stifling of the NL-leading Dodgers (12-4) on Sunday, the best mark on the staff among pitchers with a minimum of 10 innings pitched. As the Astros lurched toward the inevitability of rebuilding, Rodriguez incrementally worked his way toward the front of the rotation. When closer Mark Melancon was shipped to the Red Sox last offseason and former ace Brett Myers was relocated to the bullpen to replace Melancon, the final set of stars aligned. Rodriguez was the Astros ace. Rodriguez has long been more solid than spectacular. On May 11, 2011, he worked seven innings against the Reds, allowing three earned runs on 10 hits and lowering his ERA to 3.98. It did not approach four runs the remainder of the season, a testament to the consistency with which Rodriguez pitched in the four years preceding 2012 (45-42, 3.40 ERA). "Its the same," Rodriguez said of his designation as staff ace. "I try to put the ball wherever I want all the time, so nothings changed." That everything has remained the same works splendidly for the Astros. Rodriguez shrugged off his sluggish spring training (2-3, 7.29 ERA, .377 BAA, 1.95 WHIP over five starts) and prepared for the rigors of what could materialize into a fourth consecutive season with at least 30 starts. After his solid start against the Rockies, observers got on board and recognized that Rodriguez was poised to pitch as effectively as ever. The run support against the Dodgers did little to change his demeanor, another Rodriguez characteristic that appears to be rubbing off on younger staff mates Lucas Harrell and Kyle Weiland. When situations turn tense on the mound, Rodriguez projects the picture of serenity. "Hes pretty even-keeled," Astros catcher Jason Castro said. "You look at him and you cant tell if hes up by 10 or down by 10. He does a great job doing that. I think that really helps him in the long run. It really focuses his full attention to the game plan and making sure hes doing what he needs to do." Against the Dodgers that meant breathlessly mixing in that overhand curveball with his changeup and fastball. Not only did Rodriguez silence Kemp, he slowed Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier, who began the afternoon with 21 RBIs, second in the NL to Kemps 22. After Ethier capped his 0-for-3 day with a fly out to center in the sixth, both he and Kemp were lifted from the game. Trailing 10-0, the Dodgers conceded. Rodriguez made the most prolific run-producing tandem in the NL cry "uncle." His effort, even in the onslaught of runs, did not go unnoticed. "Getting to see Wandy pitch and with him pitching so well, its an example for us young guys and its something (where) we can follow his lead," Harrell said. "Having him pitch well, it means a lot to all of us because it just shows us that this is the way things should be done." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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