Pirates pitcher Rodriguez encouraged by first throwing session

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, 9:24 a.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pitching coach Ray Searage wanted to get a thorough look at left-hander Wandy Rodriguez during a long-toss session Tuesday, but the weather did not cooperate.

The sky was sunny and blue above Pirate City on the second day of minicamp, but the temperature hovered only in the mid-30s with a stiff wind that made it feel several degrees colder. To cut down on the risk of injury, Searage told his pitchers to scale back their workouts.

Rodriguez missed most of last season due to forearm pain, a persistent injury that dogged him for three months before he was shut down in September. He resumed throwing soft toss in early December.

Tuesday, Rodriguez threw for about 10 minutes from about 70 feet (instead of the usual 90 feet) as Searage looked on intently.

“He looked like the Wandy of old — at 70 feet and in a small sample size,” Searage said. “Hopefully, it warms up (Wednesday) so we can get a better assessment.”

Although Rodriguez has not yet thrown from a mound, he believes he can be on his normal routine by the start of spring training Feb. 13.

“I feel good,” Rodriguez. “My mechanics are OK. But let me wait (before saying more) until I start to throw hard. I hope I can start throwing bullpens in a couple more weeks.”

Will Rodriguez be in the starting rotation on Opening Day?

“I'm confident he could be there,” Searage said. “As he starts to throw and gets longer with his distance and stuff, we'll reassess and see how he feels. He'll go through his normal achiness, building up his arm strength. But, right now, it looks promising.”

Francisco Liriano figures to be the Opening Day starter and Gerrit Cole likely will be in the No. 2 spot. Having a healthy Rodriguez in the third slot and Charlie Morton fourth would give the Pirates a left-right-left-right pitching lineup.

“The main thing is, we know we have a better chance of winning with Wandy in the rotation than when he's out of it,” Searage said. “Where his positioning comes up, we'll assess that during spring training.”

Rodriguez, who will turn 35 on Jan. 18, triggered his $13 million contract option to rejoin the Pirates this year. The Houston Astros, who traded him in July 2012, will pay $5.5 million of Rodriguez's salary.

In 25 outings (24 starts) for the Pirates, Rodriguez is 11-8 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.199 WHIP. He made 12 starts last season before the injury. Doctors did not recommend surgery.

“All I had to do was rest my arm a lot,” Rodriguez said. “That's it.”

In early December, Rodriguez was cleared to test his arm with some soft toss. While he was eager to get started, Rodriguez admitted there was some anxiety.

“I was thinking in my mind, ‘Is the pain still there?' “ Rodriguez said. “I threw nice and easy and didn't feel anything. It was a relief. Right now, I think my arm is good.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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