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Pirates notebook: Wandy Rodriguez experiencing decline in fastball velocity

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 7:18 p.m.
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The Pirates' Wandy Rodriguez pitches in the second inning against the Reds on Monday, April 14, 2014, in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI — Wandy Rodriguez has hit a speed bump. Not only is the left-hander's performance down, having allowed five home runs in 16 innings en route to a 7.31 ERA through three starts, but his velocity also has declined from his 2013 level and career average.

Rodriguez again missed with location in the center of the strike zone Monday, allowing three two-run home runs. But he also has less margin of error because his velocity is down almost 2 mph. Rodriguez's fastball is averaging 87.5 mph after averaging 89.4 mph last season and 89.3 mph for his career.

Is the drop tied to cool weather, not being at midseason arm strength or a sign of declining skills?

“You can go with any one of those because that's kind of where we are,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I don't run to answer right away just because I've seen three outings, and his velocity is down a tick. ... I think as we get more reps, as we get warmer weather, I think you'll get a more (accurate) read.”

Rodriguez has had the second-largest velocity drop among NL starters early this season, according to Fangraphs.com. Charlie Morton is fourth, having lost 1.7 mph from his fastball compared to last season.

Rodriguez has not had trouble throwing strikes — two-thirds of his pitches were strikes Monday — but he's not always throwing quality strikes.

“The mistakes are getting covered and getting hit over the wall,” Hurdle said. “It's a challenging time for him.”

The Pirates likely will give Rodriguez time to recapture his form as even with the $5.5 million payment from Houston, he still is the team's second-highest paid player at $7.5 million, trailing only Russell Martin ($9.5 million).

No cookie cutter?

Gaby Sanchez entered Tuesday with just three starts in the first 13 games of the season as the Pirates have faced almost exclusively right-handed pitching.

Hurdle has said the first base platoon will not be a “cookie cutter” in nature, meaning the left-handed hitting Travis Ishikawa will not start against all right-handed pitching. Perhaps the platoon will begin to be less straight forward after Sanchez hit two home runs against right-handed pitchers in Homer Bailey and J.J. Hoover on Monday.

Hurdle said Tuesday he anticipated giving Sanchez more at bats against right-handed pitching.

“It's not all hard numbers,” Hurdle said. “We're kind of old school here. We'll look at what our eyes tell us and what our gut tells us.”

Sanchez has moved off the plate against right-handed pitching after watching video from his 2010 and 2011 seasons when he had more success against righties.

“It let me give myself some room to be able to have clearance,” Sanchez said. “I backed off the plate and that felt a lot better, especially against off-speed pitches where I am able to see them and now they don't feel like they are coming at me.”

Cole honors Robinson's UCLA ties

Gerrit Cole added something to his cap while pitching Tuesday on Jackie Robinson Day. Cole inscribed “UCLA” and Robinson's No. 42 on his hat. Robinson lettered in four sports at UCLA.

“To be able to pitch today was pretty cool for me,” said Cole, who attended UCLA. “He's known so much for what he did for Major League Baseball, and really the entire world, so I just wanted to give (Robinson's UCLA history) attention.”

Upon further review

The Pirates still are waiting to hear from Major League Baseball why Todd Frazier was awarded second base in the fourth inning Monday on a foul ball call that was overturned and ruled fair. Frazier had not advanced to second base.

Hurdle also said he has not been updated since Opening Day on what constitutes a catch, a trendy topic as several controversial rulings have been made regarding catches.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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