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Rodriguez hoping to stick as Rule 5 pick

| Monday, March 14, 2011

DUNEDIN, Fla. - There's a fine line between trying to impress a new team in spring training and relaxing enough to be comfortable and play well, especially as a Rule 5 pick.

Middle infielder Josh Rodriguez, whom the Pirates took first overall in the Rule 5 draft in December, got some good advice at the start of Pirates' spring training from a guy who speaks from experience.

"When I first got here, Evan Meek kind of sat down, talked to me, gave me his story and how things went for him and just kind of gave me some advice on the mindset you should have, what to look forward to, just basically how to prepare," Rodriguez said. "It's definitely a unique situation. You just don't want to press and put the pressure on yourself. Just relax, have fun with it and enjoy it."

Under Rule 5 guidelines, the Pirates must keep Rodriguez on the 25-man roster the entire season or offer him back to Cleveland for half of the $50,000 drafting price.

Meek was the Pirates' pick in the 2007 Rule 5 draft and has since become the Pirates' main set-up reliever, even earning an All-Star nod in 2010. Left-handed reliever Scott Sauerbeck also had a successful career for the Pirates after being selected as a Rule 5 pick.

Rodriguez is hoping for a similar success story after appearing in 455 minor-league games in Cleveland's organization.

Rodriguez missed all but 33 games with Double-A Akron in 2009 after a right hamstring strain landed him on the disabled list in late April. He was hitting .314 at the time.

The Houston native bounced back in 2010, hitting .297 (113-for-380) with a career-high 30 doubles, 13 home runs and 57 RBI in 107 games between Akron and Triple-A Columbus, where he finished the season. Rodriguez made 54 appearances at shortstop, including his final 35, in addition to 19 at second base, four in left field, one at third and one in center field.

"I was hoping that with the season I put up, I'd opened up some eyes out there," said Rodriguez, a career .266 hitter with a .356 on-base percentage and .426 slugging percentage in five minor-league seasons. "I think the most surprising part was just being taken No. 1 overall. The Rule 5 draft you usually see a bunch of pitchers go, but not too many position players. So to be taken No. 1 overall was definitely a surprise and definitely made me feel good."

Unfortunately for Rodriguez, 26, a sore right quadriceps muscle kept him on the bench part of this week. So far this spring, he's played in eight games, with four each at second base and shortstop.

He entered Friday's game at shortstop in the fifth inning and turned two double plays. He also struck out to end the ninth inning with runners on second and third and finished 0 for 2 with a walk.

Rodriguez started Saturday's split-squad game against the Toronto Blue Jays at second base, batting second. He was 1 for 3 with an infield single, flied out with the bases loaded and two out in the fourth, had a walk and grounded out to end the sixth.

"We got him for a reason," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There are people who think highly of him who saw him in the minor-league system last year and as we look to fill that utility spot he's someone we want to take a long look at. We still have two weeks to evaluate him."

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