CHEYENNE – This season hasn’t gone the way Trenton Rodriguez hoped it would, but it has been better in nearly every way.
He thought he’d see more of the infield than the pitcher’s mound for Cheyenne American Legion Post 6. Instead, he has logged more wins (9) than any other hurler on the Sixers’ roster, and the second-most innings (58-2/3).
“I didn’t play as well as I should have in the infield,” Rodriguez said matter-of-factly. “There is a lot of competition for those spots, and those other guys just outplayed me.
“I’ve been doing well on the mound, so the coaches have kept going to me there.”
The 17-year-old right-hander has gone 9-1 in his 11 starts for Cheyenne (46-20) entering the Wyoming Class AA state tournament today in Rock Springs.
Rodriguez’s 49 strikeouts are tied for fourth-most on the team, while his 5.37 earned-run average ranks seventh among pitchers who have logged at least 34 innings.
Rodriguez has amassed all those numbers with just two pitches in his arsenal.
The Cheyenne East senior-to-be suffered a broken right wrist when he tried to break his fall while playing basketball. The wrist is still stiff to some movements, which has kept him from throwing his changeup.
The fastball and curveball require a forward motion with the hand and wrist, which Rodriguez can make easily. The changeup requires him to turn his hand, wrist and arm to the left toward his body and have the seam of the ball spin off his pinky finger as it leaves his hand.
Command has helped Rodriguez excel, despite only being able to throw two pitches.
“He has dominated the strike zone and really attacked hitters,” fifth-year Cheyenne manager Ty Lain said. “He can throw both pitches for strikes in different counts. There were times last season where he was a little one-dimensional.
“He has found a swagger and has a little more confidence. His mound presence is a lot different compared to last year. He looks free and relaxed. He doesn’t fear coming into the strike zone, or making the big pitch when he has to.”
As a sophomore, Rodriguez made just five starts and 23 appearances. He went 4-5 with a 3.71 ERA over 51 innings.
Rodriguez said he feels like a different pitcher this summer.
“All the work I put in has gotten me really dialed in, able to throw strikes, get outs and really compete on the mound,” he said. “Each outing, I find places I could improve. But I’ve gotten a lot better at finding the strike zone each game.
“Each umpire is different, and you can’t control their strike zone. You have to find where it is early in the game, fill it up and throw strikes. I’ve gotten a lot better at adjusting to the strike zones.”
Adapting is nothing new for Rodriguez.
He has worn hearing aids in both ears since being diagnosed with hearing loss when he was just a toddler. He sometimes has difficulty hearing instructions from the dugout on days with high winds, but the baseball diamond is one place where his hearing troubles don’t matter.
“This is one place I can get away from it,” he said.
Rodriguez is more than happy to discuss his hearing troubles with anyone, but he tries to not draw attention to his hearing aids. He also doesn’t feel sorry for himself.
“I’ve taken trips down to hospitals to do tests and scans, and I see what other people are struggling with,” he said. “A couple years ago, my older brother, Ryan, really got it into my head that I’m lucky, and that I need to be grateful that hearing loss is all I have to deal with.
“My hearing aids are minor compared to people who can’t even walk on their own. When I think about it like that, it puts everything into perspective.”
Cheyenne opens the state tournament against Casper (10-39) at 10 a.m. today. The teams have not played since May 23. The Sixers won both of those contests in lopsided fashion.
Post 6 closed the regular season with wins over North Platte, Nebraska, and Scottsbluff, Nebraska, on Friday. Lain gave his ballclub some much-needed downtime after playing 66 games since May 20.
“We’ve been able to use this time off to really fine tune some things that we usually don’t have time to work on at this time of the season,” Lain said. “We’ve been able to break down some swings and things we want to do defensively. That could be huge for us, and help us play our best baseball of the year this week.”
Cheyenne beat its last two foes by a combined score of 18-6. It tallied 25 hits across those games.
“Our team really got it going offensively during the last two games we played,” Lain said. “One of those wins, we were behind and had to show come resolve and grit to get the win. I’m excited about our chances at state. We just have to play the way we’re capable of playing.”